WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), are questioning the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about revelations that it is revoking the membership of dozens of people enrolled in its Global Entry Program on the basis of religion. The Global Entry Program allows expedited clearance for certain travelers arriving in the U.S. who have undergone significant background checks.
Recent news reports have indicated that individuals with Arab and Muslim-sounding names are having their membership in the Global Entry program revoked with little explanation. If true, such discrimination would likely violate the Constitution.
“The Fifth Amendment encompasses a guarantee of equal protection that prevents the federal government from discriminating against people based on suspect classes, such as religion,” the lawmakers wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly. “If DHS has removed people from the Global Entry Program because they have Muslim-sounding names, it would appear that the agency has violated the Fifth Amendment.”
The lawmakers asked Secretary John Kelly, the head of DHS, to provide information on how many individuals have had their Global Entry status revoked and why their status was revoked.
As the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Cardin has been an active opponent of President Trump’s travel bans, which have demonstrated dangerous overreach targeting individuals based on religion.
Full text of the letter is below.
April 21, 2017
General John Kelly
Department of Homeland Security
301 7th Street SW, Mail Stop 0150
Washington, D.C. 20528-0150
Dear Secretary Kelly:
We write to express our serious concerns regarding recent press reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has revoked the membership of dozens of people who are enrolled in the agency’s Global Entry Program—which allows expedited clearance for certain travelers arriving in the United States who have undergone background checks and a personal interview—apparently because they have Arab or Muslim-sounding names. If true, such discrimination is not only morally reprehensible, it likely violates the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
Since President Trump took office, members of the Arab and Muslim community have justifiably felt under attack. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In January, President Trump attempted to fulfill that campaign promise by issuing an executive order titled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” The order precluded people from seven majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the United States, temporarily halted the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, and permanently excluded Syrian refugees from entering the United States. The order was rightfully dubbed a “Muslim ban.”
In February, a federal judge issued a temporary stay that precluded the government from enforcing the order. Days later, a three judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed that judge’s ruling. Last month, President Trump issued another executive order that temporarily prevents people from six Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States, and halts the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program for a period of time. This order, like the first, has been blocked by federal courts.
Given that the Trump Administration has taken policy positions that are hostile towards immigrants and refugees, we are concerned by press reports alleging discrimination by DHS against members of the Arab and Muslim community. Reports have emerged that people with Arab or Muslim-sounding names are having their Global Entry Program status revoked. In fact, reports indicate that more than two dozen people with Arab or Muslim-sounding names have come forward claiming their enrollment in Global Entry was revoked. This is wrong and unacceptable.
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 Fifth Amendment encompasses a guarantee of equal protection that prevents the federal government from discriminating against people based on suspect classes, such as religion. If DHS has removed people from the Global Entry Program because they have Muslim-sounding names, it would appear that the agency has violated the Fifth Amendment.
In addition, revoking Global Entry status based solely on ethnicity, religion, or country of origin is not a smart approach to ensuring security. Global Entry and other DHS “trusted traveler” programs allow travelers who are determined to present a low-security risk to receive benefits, including expedited clearance and security screening. To become a Global Entry member, applicants must provide substantial biographic information, interview with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials, provide fingerprints, and pay a fee before receiving benefits like expedited clearance. This process allows CBP and other agencies to operate more efficiently and better allocate limited resources to screen unknown travelers who are likely to pose a threat.
We ask you to please provide answers to the following questions and requests for information as soon as possible, but no later than May 14, 2017.
- What are the criteria for revocation of membership in Global Entry?
- Please provide the number of Global Entry members whose memberships were revoked as a result of the President’s January 27, 2017 Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” including memberships which were later reinstated.
- Please provide the number of Global Entry members whose memberships were revoked as a result of the President’s March 9, 2017 Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” including memberships which were later reinstated.
- Please provide the number of members whose Global Entry status was revoked, along with a description of the reason for revocation, since January 20, 2017.
- Please provide a list of any other DHS Trusted Traveler Programs affected by the recent Executive Order, and the number of memberships affected, including those later reinstated.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.