ROMULUS, Mich., June 5 -- The federal government is investigating complaints that Arab-American airline passengers are unfairly targeted for security screenings at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
The U.S. Department of Transportation began Monday a three-week survey at Metro Airport to determine whether minority groups are singled out for additional searches of their baggage.
"Safety is the Department of Transportation's highest priority, and routine security measures are necessary to protect the flying public against possible terrorist attacks. But we must also protect the civil rights of airline passengers," a department spokesman told The Detroit News.
"While the security procedures are not based on the race, ethnicity, religion or gender of passengers, we also want to assure that in practice, the system does not disproportionately select members of any particular minority group," said spokesman Norman Mineta.
For at least the last decade, Arab Americans and African Americans have complained that they are unfairly subjected to searches by airport security officers and U.S. Customs agents.
"Airline profiling continues to be a challenge for the Arab-American community," says Imad Hamad, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "We have been witnessing a lot of complaints, and it has been alarming."
Racial profiling and religious harassment are the most severe forms of discrimination faced by local Arab Americans, according to a recent report released by the Michigan Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in the United States. About 200,000 Arab Americans live in Metro Detroit, one of the largest concentrations in the United States.
Researchers in the federal study will collect data such as race, religion, national origin, gender and citizenship of passengers boarding Northwest Airlines flights leaving Metro Airport. The Department of Transportation expects to survey more than 300 flights and about 40,000 passengers through June 29, except Sundays.
Hamad and other Arab-American community leaders are urging members of their community and other minorities to participate in the study.
"Maybe the results ... will get officials to wake up and smell the coffee and put an end to this selective treatment of Arab Americans," Hamad said.