Visitors to U.S. Have New Way To Report Entry, Exit Problems

By Jeffrey Thomas
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Travelers to the United States who experience difficulties during airport and train station screenings or at border crossings now can make inquiries or seek resolution at an easy-to-use Internet site.

The Department of Homeland Security launched its new Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) February 21 as part of its continuing effort in conjunction with the State Department to balance security needs with the needs of the traveling public.

TRIP is the point of contact with Homeland Security for travelers who are denied or delayed airline boarding, denied or delayed entry into or exit from the United States at a port of entry or border checkpoint, or continuously are referred to additional (secondary) screening.

“We’re making travel more efficient and secure by offering a convenient redress process,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “This is a win-win program. Eliminating false positives makes the travel experience more pleasant for legitimate visitors, and it frees up our front-line personnel to apply even greater scrutiny of those individuals who truly present safety and security risks.”

The department’s action was welcomed by various civil rights groups and other organizations, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Problems encountered by visitors to the United States at airports, train stations or border crossings have been a matter of ongoing concern to U.S. officials and the travel industry. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) received approximately 20,000 requests for redress in 2006, according to James Kennedy, the director of TSA’s redress office. Kennedy was among several officials who briefed journalists and travel industry representatives on the new program February 21. Other agencies also have received a significant number of complaints.

The new program “is a way we can go through a one-stop process … so we can solve it once and the individual won’t have to go chasing different government agencies,” Kennedy said.

The TRIP program is “a cooperative effort … a first step toward doing more to consolidate our redress program,” according to Kathy Kraninger, the director of Homeland Security’s Screening Coordination Office. Kraninger said TRIP is “a first step we expect to build on over time.”

Delay for travelers can result when they are identified incorrectly as someone on a watch list of suspected terrorists or others who represent a safety or security risk. TRIP is aimed at resolving watch list misidentification problems and other situations where travelers believe they have been delayed unfairly or incorrectly, denied boarding or inappropriately identified for additional screening at U.S. transportation hubs

Under TRIP, travelers can fill out a single request for redress via a secure Web site. The electronic form asks the traveler to identify a concern, such as being told fingerprints were incorrect or of poor quality, or experiencing possible discrimination based on race, disability, religion, gender or ethnicity. This information will be shared with the relevant Homeland Security agencies, such as TSA or U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with the Department of State and, when appropriate, with airport and airline operators.

Kraninger emphasized that measures to safeguard privacy are built into TRIP, which will adhere to the provisions of the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974. “We are requesting only what we need,” depending on the complaint, Kraninger said. Supporting documentation can be submitted within 30 days by fax, mail or e-mail. The information cannot be used for any other purpose and will be destroyed after seven years, the standard time frame within the U.S. government, Kennedy said.

Reducing the length of time it takes to resolve issues is one focus of TRIP. Kennedy said his office has managed to reduce its response time from 60 days to less than 10 days.

Kraninger acknowledged that not all of the agencies involved are able yet to adhere to the same time frame for resolving problems and complaints. “TRIP intends to hold agencies to a common time frame, but we aren’t there yet,” she said.

A number of other steps also have been taken to make the screening process more efficient and secure, including a recent name-by-name review of the No-Fly list to ensure that only individuals currently posing a threat are included, Homeland Security said in a press release.

Additional information on TRIP, including instructions on filing a complaint, is available on the Homeland Security Web site.