U.S. Customs and Border Protection revoked the enrollment of people in the Global Entry program and other U.S. “trusted traveler” categories as part of the Trump administration’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim nations.
[Skift Editor’s Note: Mic Network broke this story and Skift dug deeper into it two months ago, and the CBP denied that any such thing was taking place.]
The ban triggered raucous protests across the country and was quickly enjoined by the courts. But some industry groups contend the damage to the U.S. travel industry continues.
American citizens certified for Global Entry often learned of the issue only when they sought to travel, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which says it received “dozens” of complaints and is seeking agency records about the revocations through the Freedom of Information Act.
A CBP spokeswoman, Jennifer Gabris, said the agency restored some enrollees by early February after the administration clarified that lawful permanent residents weren’t included in the ban. Last month, federal judges also blocked a revised ban. The CBP did not respond to questions about how many people had been purged and restored to the “trusted traveler” programs.
Several of the people who complained about being removed from the programs were U.S. citizens originally from countries not included in the bans: India, Lebanon, and Pakistan, said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which is based in Washington. And some had their Global Entry status revoked before the bans were announced, he said.
Ayoub said he was “fairly certain” the government had revoked the status of members based on their names and wasn’t sure that everyone enrolled in the programs had been restored.
“The allegation that U.S. Customs and Border Protection cancelled Trusted Traveler memberships because the member had a ‘Muslim-sounding name’ is completely false,” the agency said. Ayoub’s group filed a lawsuit April 18 in federal court saying that the CBP did not respond to its request for the records.
“A lot of these individuals that contacted us are professionals …. they travel often for work and seminars,” Ayoub said. “Nothing changed in their circumstances or in their life to warrant [CBP] to go back and change their eligibility. The only thing that’s changed is the administration and the way CBP does things. What we want to know is ‘Are you focusing on Arab and Muslim-sound names?’ That’s the issue here.”
In its statement, the CBP said it has since restored all affected members of the four entry programs.
The fallout for U.S. “trusted travelers” from the first travel ban is the latest area in which the president’s immigration and travel policies have had unforeseen consequences on the travel and hospitality industries.
“Our reputation around the world is not something we can take for granted,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association. “Our industry is caught in the crossfire as we’re seeking to solve this issue of terrorism.”
The four programs CBP operates to speed entry into the U.S. include Global Entry, for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and citizens of seven other nations; NEXUS, for travel between the U.S. and Canada; Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), for travel between the U.S. and Mexico’s land borders; and Free and Secure Trade (FAST), for “low-risk” commercial shipments between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico.
The CBP has several exceptions for eligibility, including criminal convictions, false statements on one’s application, and those who “cannot satisfy CBP of your low-risk status.”
In December 2015, candidate Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” until the government effectively grasps the security situation. “It’s common sense and we have to do it,” Trump said at a campaign appearance in South Carolina, citing “hatred” of Americans by Muslims. “We have no choice.”
Courts haven’t allowed Trump that choice thus far, but the decision Wednesday by Emirates Airlines to curb its U.S. flying is one sign the message is being heard abroad. The Dubai-based carrier is culling 25 weekly flights from five of its dozen U.S. destinations, citing weaker U.S. travel demand given “recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins.”
Homeland Security employees have also increased searches of travelers’ mobile phones and other electronic devices, and prohibited electronics in the cabins of aircraft flying to the U.S. from 10 airports, mainly in the Middle East. Both as a candidate and president, Trump has also focused intensely on Mexico, once calling the nation a source of “bad hombres” and proposing a massive border wall.
Trump’s rhetoric and unpopularity abroad is likely to reduce international arrivals by 4.3 million this year, according to market strategy firm Tourism Economics LLC, with more than $18 billion in visitor spending lost by 2019.
Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, the U.S. government’s travel-marketing unit, said the industry is currently “dealing with perception versus reality” in terms of what effect Trump is likely to have. A strong U.S. dollar will degrade travel to the U.S. more than any policies, he said.
The administration’s rhetoric and policies have created anxiety abroad and are likely to make some travelers reconsider plans to visit the U.S., said Jeff Senior, vice president of marketing at California-based reports operator KSL Resorts and global chair of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association Intl., a hotel marketing group.
“The very first thing out of anybody’s mouth is sort of a combination of angst and curiosity about how the U.S. is behaving right now,” Senior said. “Nobody wants to travel to a place they don’t feel welcome. There’s some soul-searching taking place. There’s some wonderful destinations around the world—the U.S. isn’t the only place you can visit.”
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.