Dems probe claims of religious bias in DHS 'trusted traveler' program

Dems probe claims of religious bias in DHS 'trusted traveler' program
© Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats is demanding to know whether some members of an expedited airport screening program have had their status revoked because of their religion.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday, lawmakers pressed the agency on media reports that individuals with Arab- and Muslim-sounding names are having their membership to the Global Entry program revoked without explanation.

They said allegations that the decisions were based on religion would be discriminatory and likely violate the constitution. The group is seeking information from DHS Secretary John Kelly, by May 14, about how many individuals have had their Global Entry membership taken away and why their status was revoked.

“Removing people from the Global Entry Program because of their ethnicity or religion is not only immoral, it also likely violates the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution,” the senators wrote. “Since President Trump took office, members of the Arab and Muslim community have justifiably felt under attack.”

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Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tom CarperTom CarperDems seek damage assessment after Trump's meeting with Russians Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances regulatory reform bills Heitkamp breaks with Dems on regulations MORE (D-Del.) spearheaded the letter, which comes as the administration faces criticism from the left over its policies impacting the Muslim community.

But officials quickly dismissed those claims.

"The allegation that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cancelled Trusted Traveler memberships because the member had a 'Muslim-sounding name' is completely false," the CBP said in a statement.

The agency said that the reports stemmed from initial confusion over who was included in Trump's travel ban, which has since been put on hold twice by federal judges. After further guidance was issued by the White House, the CBP reinstated travelers in the program who were no longer subject to the executive order.

Global Entry is an expedited screening program that allows travelers to skip certain screenings in exchange for background checks.

The DHS touted its trusted traveler programs in an earlier statement Friday unveiling a tool allowing passengers to easily compare the programs, which the agency credits with reducing checkpoint wait times and enhancing security at airports around the country.

“Trusted Traveler Programs have successfully improved the international arrivals process — reducing wait times at airports across the country while maintaining our primary mission of security,” said Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Updated at 2:25 p.m.