OPINION: Muslim ban endangers aviation beyond the greenroom

Journalists aren’t normally supposed to be the story. Yesterday, I was. My story about being greenroomed — taken to the “full primary” or “secondary” screening rooms that sit unnoticed in every international airport immigration hall in the United States — were picked up widely and even made it into an official Twitter Moment.

With President Trump issuing an unannounced, unplanned-for executive order preventing passport holders of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen entering the United States, hundreds if not thousands of people with entirely legal, vetted visas — including long-term resident green card holders — were suddenly denied entry into the United States.

Let’s be clear: this is a ban on Muslims, not least because the President has expressed his willingness to allow Christians from these countries to enter, and because one of its authors, Rudolph Giuliani, specifically states that it was created to stand as a proxy for a ban on Muslims. It is immoral, unethical and just plain wrong.

Many, myself included, consider it unconstitutional and an active detriment to the safety and security of the United States. It is more likely to engender anti-American sentiment worldwide, creating new threats and boosting older threats, than it is to keep the United States safe. It endangers American citizens overseas, damages diplomatic relations in an area of the world where the US can ill afford ill will, and shows a cavalier disregard for the duties and commitments of the United States government.

I say this as someone with an MA in International Relations with a specialty and dissertation in combating jihadi terrorism. The theory is sound. The academic questions are settled. The Trump administration is simply ignoring the facts and the experts.

It should be no surprise that the uncoordinated signing of the executive order, which permits entry by nationals of a number of countries with which the President is understood to have business dealings, and the way that it was implemented, has been chaotic. The President does not appear to have taken into account providing practical information to airlines, airports or immigration staff, whose unions are troublingly overjoyed by this news. Neither does he appear to have coordinated with the intelligence community, where there is much confusion and consternation.

It is the impact on real people, who already live or had been thoroughly vetted to live in the United States, that has spurred thousands of Americans to protest at the nation’s airports.

Longterm US resident green card holders and people with valid visas whose flights had not yet taken off were turned away from the airport and removed from aircraft. Passengers whose flights landed in the US were taken off to secondary screening, something I experienced as a US citizen for several years, when I was repeatedly sent to the “greenroom” owing — border agents told me — to having overseas national (UK) parents and having lost a passport at the age of 13, over twenty years ago.


Nearly twenty-four hours and tens of thousands of retweets and likes later, it’s been interesting to reflect on being swamped with both supportive and abusive responses, everything from celebrities telling their fans to read the thread to Twitter eggs and frog emojied names @-replying gory shock images into my mentions.

I’ve heard from friends and strangers who have also been greenroomed, whose experiences were a matter of frustration, inconvenience and slight like mine, or were truly threatening, racist and terrifying. I’ve heard from people from a wide variety of countries who are now deeply concerned about travelling to or through the United States.

I’ve heard from flight attendants within the US whose dual nationalities mean they are unable to go to work, because if they leave the country they will be prevented from returning — and from dual nationals and green card holders from other nations not yet affected, whose lives and jobs have been catapulted into a state of uncertainty.

I’ve heard from pilots and crew from major international airlines that are having to change their rosters significantly to avoid crew who hold nationalities from the seven states concerned flying to or over the US, and which are having to try to predict the behaviour of an unprecedentedly capricious and unpredictable administration.

And while yesterday’s change is from the Trump administration, the organs of the state that carry the orders out date back decades. People are are being detained in blue states and red, across America, and there are reports of border officials refusing to comply with court rulings from New York to Seattle to Dallas. This affects us all.

I hope my words bring a sense of self-awareness to those from the United States within commercial aviation who may not have considered what it’s like to be hauled away to the greenroom, and a warning that these actions make the airline industry — always a lightning rod for geopolitical strife — less safe, in terms of both economics and physical security.

The aviation industry is and always will be subject to external shocks, with US airlines and airports particularly sensitive to geopolitics, reciprocal treatment of US nationals by other governments, and an overall rise in anti-American sentiment that usually leads to a rise in anti-American violence.

This is just the first shock from the Trump administration, and it seems there is little to no recognition of the damage it is doing or any intention to change its behaviour.

While there is some comfort from the legal success of organizations like the ACLU in staying the executive order on at least a temporary basis, commercial aviation should be worried, and should be standing up.

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