Higher Ratio of Black Women Strip-Searched at Airports

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From Reuters

Black women returning to the United States from abroad were disproportionately singled out for strip-searches by U.S. Customs Service inspectors at airports, the Washington Post reported in Monday editions, citing a new congressional report.

The General Accounting Office report, scheduled for release Monday, found that black women were nearly twice as likely to be strip-searched on suspicion of smuggling drugs as white men and women, and three times as likely as black men, according to the Post.

The report found the intrusive searches were not justified by a higher rate of discovery of contraband among minority groups.


Only about 102,000 of the roughly 140 million U.S. citizens returning from abroad were subject to special searches in fiscal years 1997 and 1998. The GAO said 95% of those were given simple pat-downs and were not required to disrobe.

Another 4% underwent strip-searches and 1% were X-rayed, the Post cited the report as saying.

African American men and women were nearly nine times as likely as white men and women to be X-rayed, while Latin American men and women were nearly four times as likely, the Post quoted the report as saying.

“The most pronounced difference occurred with black women who were U.S. citizens,” the Post quoted that GAO report as saying. “They were nine times more likely than white women who were U.S. citizens to be X-rayed after being frisked or patted down in fiscal year 1998. But on the basis of X-ray results, black women who were U.S. citizens were less than half as likely to be found carrying contraband as white women,” the GAO said.

The GAO report followed two years of criticism by minority women in Chicago and other cities who have complained of “racial profiling” and humiliating treatment by inspectors at airports.

U.S. Customers Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the Post that the agency had tightened up search procedures and put its lawyers on 24-hour duty to advise inspectors who detain travelers suspected of smuggling drugs or other contraband.


But he said the agency did not condone racial profiling.

“We have made it clear to our people that racial profiling will not, cannot, be tolerated,” the Post quoted him as saying.

Customs officials told the Post that the number of intrusive searches has dropped by about half, and those that are conducted are far more likely to turn up drugs.

But the GAO found that some passengers were more likely than others to be forced to undergo an intrusive search.