Imagine taking a vacation to some exotic place, perhaps even going to school abroad for a few months, and then being told that you can’t go home. The New York Times reports that such is the tragic situation of Yahya Wehelie, a young American who went to Yemen to study, at the insistence of his parents. He found himself on the No Fly List, for reasons we don’t know, and given no reasonable way to get home to Virginia.
Here we see the juxtaposition of many principles:
- The government responsibility to protect Americans on the ground and in the air from terrorism;
- The individual’s freedom to travel;
- Government responsibility to enforce trade other policies, such as that of importation of prohibited goods; and
- An individual’s right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
Americans have the fewest rights when flying back to the United States. You can expect to be searched, probed, and prodded. You don’t have the right to carry a bottle of water into an airport, and you can expect substantial inconvenience, especially if you are disabled, when traveling. You can expect your laptop to be confiscated.
The situation is changing, however. A recent decision by a federal judge limits rummaging through laptops of American citizens. Another decision is clearly needed: Americans deserve the right to face their accusers, to hear allegations, and to be able to respond to those charges so that they can receive justice. The basic premise of an airport search is to address threats that are not amenable to taking the time to have such a hearing. Several weeks should be more than plenty of time for a case to be heard by a competent judge. Having some random person stick your name on a list is what one should expect of Nineteen Eight-Four and Brazil, and of America.
What would you do if it were your son trying to get home?