ajnabieh: Robin Sparkles (character from How I Met Your Mother) in front of a red maple leaf, dancing. (canada sparkles)
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I am an assistant professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, and I am looking to interview Arab, Muslim, and South Asian identified people living in the US or Canada who hold a North American 'trusted traveller' status, such as the NEXUS card for crossing the US-Canadian border, TSA PreCheck for flying domestically within the US, Global Entry for entering the US after having traveled abroad, or CANPASS for entering Canada from abroad (either Air or Marine versions), for a research project about how race, ethnicity, and identity are constructed in North America. This project has received approval from the University of Ottawa Research Ethics Board (equivalent to a US IRB).

What is the research project this is a part of?

I'm looking to understand the experience of having a trusted traveller status for Muslims of all ethnicities/races and Arabs and South Asians of all religions. Muslims and those perceived as Muslim (particularly Arabs and South Asians) have been the target of racial profiling, discriminatory treatment, and heightened surveillance during travel, which has intensified in the post-9/11 period. At the same time, there has been a movement to make borders and travel "smarter," giving border officials more data to make decisions about who to admit and exclude at the border, and moving decisions about admission/exclusion away from the border. The US and Canada have both been leaders in this, starting a variety of programs for those traveling within the country, abroad, or between the two countries. After paying a fee and undergoing a background check, people who apply to these programs can, if approved, be "precleared" for travel, such that they are not subject to invasive questioning or scrutiny at the moment of travel.

Given that Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in North America have been particularly targeted by the most invasive versions of the new security culture in the past decade, and also given that a large part of this community is highly mobile, traveling frequently within and beyond national borders, and
has a large number of middle or high income people who could afford the fees for trusted traveller programs, it makes sense that those who travel frequently might seek out these trusted traveller statuses in order to make their experiences of traveling easier. But what is the experience of deciding to apply for this status, going through the process, receiving it, and using it while traveling actually like? What are the experiences of people who have gone this process, and what can those experiences tell social scientists interested in identity, borders, and other important political questions, or activists and policy makers worried about the status and well-being of visible minority communities? These are the questions I want to ask in this project.

Who are you?

I am a non-Muslim white American, originally from Philadelphia, now living in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and teaching US and comparative politics at the University of Ottawa, a bilingual, PhD-granting university. I have a PhD in politics from the New School for Social Research in New York City, and my doctoral dissertation was an ethnography of the Arab community in New York City, focusing on community organizing and political activism (particularly around Palestine). My research focuses on Muslim and Arab migrant communities and their relationship to politics both in the countries where they live and their countries of origin/heritage (as well as Middle Eastern politics and social movements and political activism in the US/transnationally more broadly). You can read some things I've written on my academia.edu page, or on this blog.

I'm approaching this project as someone who has grown increasingly border-conscious through the process of becoming a US/Canadian transnational. I have spent the past two and a half years regularly crossing the US/Canadian border by car with my family, as we travel between family in the US and work and our new home in Canada. A large portion of my extended family also lives in Buffalo, New York, which rests along the border. This has made me very interested in the politics of this specific border, which both American and Canadian political actors seem to think is politically neutral or merely administrative. But I experience very different things on either side of it (I can vote on one side, and not on the other; I have health insurance on one, and not the other; I speak French daily on one side, and not the other), and I am conscious, when I interact with border agents, that I am being evaluated for truthfulness and propriety. I am also conscious, however, that I am white, hold American citizenship, and usually cross the border either as a business traveler or as a mom traveling with spouse and children--statuses that give me clear privilege at the border. My knowledge of the phenomenon of "flying while brown"--the profiling and discrimination that occurs to Muslim people and those presumed to be Muslim when traveling, particularly in the last fifteen years--makes me very curious about experiences at borders and at other moments of travel for those who fall into these categories. This is what motivates me to undertake this project.

Who do you want to talk to?

I'm looking to speak to anyone who identifies as Muslim, South Asian, or Arab, and holds one of these statuses (NEXUS, Global Entry, CANPASS, or TSA PreCheck). If you are under 18, I will need permission from your parents for you to participate; however, I am happy to speak to people under 18 about their experiences, either alone or with their families.

If you have previously held one of these statuses, but it has expired, I am also interested in talking to you. If you have applied for one of these statuses, and not received it for any reason, I am definitely interested in talking to you. If you have considered applying for a status but decided against it, I am probably interested in talking to you.

If you hold a SENTRI card (for crossing the US/Mexico border), or if you, through your work, are involved in one of the pre clearance programs for cargo crossing the US-Canada border, and are Arab, Muslim, or South Asian, I am probably interested in talking to you, although I may not have time to do so if I am overwhelmed with other interviewees (I don't anticipate this being the case!). Please feel free to contact me and we can talk about it.

And, finally: if you are a person of color (not Muslim, Arab, or South Asian) who holds one of these statuses, or if you hold an equivalent trusted traveller status outside of North America, and you are interested in talking about your experiences, please feel free to contact me. Although this project as currently conceived focuses on Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians with North American trusted traveler statuses, I am definitely interested in the broader questions that this projects raises in global perspective. I may not have time to talk to you right now, but I am interested in your experiences.

What would participation look like?

I'd like to interview you, by phone, Skype, chat (whatever program works for you), or in person. Interviews will be scheduled for about an hour, but they may run shorter or longer depending on how much we have to talk about.

If you live in Ottawa, Montreal, or Philadelphia, I will be in your area at some point over the next few months and would be happy to meet in person. I could also arrange to be in other places, particularly Buffalo/Niagara, Detroit/Windsor, Toronto, Syracuse, Rochester, or New York City without much trouble if I can find people to talk to there.

I am interested in the project, but don't want to do an interview (because I'm shy, because I'm worried about confidentiality, because I'm too busy, etc).

I can understand that! If you want to write up whatever you feel like about your experiences as a Muslim/Arab/South Asian with one of these statuses, and either post it on the internet and send me a link or email it directly to me, I'll be very happy to see it. Let me know if you're open to follow-up questions about it.

How will my privacy be protected during this research?

I take privacy concerns very seriously, given the level of surveillance that Muslim, Arab, and other visible minority communities experience in North America. Therefore, I will take all possible precautions with the information that you give me:

• You do not need to give me your legal name (you can use a pseudonym when you contact me if you prefer), and I will never use your legal name when writing about what you've said.
• The most identifying pieces of information I will need you to give me are your religious/ethnic/racial identities (e.g., Black Muslim, South Asian Hindu, Shi'a Iranian) at the level you'd like to give me, where you live (e.g., the Detroit area, the GTA, Seattle) at the level you'd like to give me and your gender and age. You will be free to share with me any other personal details you might think relevant to explaining your experiences (your first language, whether you wear hijab or a turban, whether you're a citizen or permanent resident, your profession, etc) but that will be at your discretion. If I ask you something you don't want to answer, you may always say "I don't want to answer that" and I won't ask again.
• Whatever contact information you give me will be held only on my computers/devices and saved only for the duration of the project.
• I use abbreviations and pseudonyms in my notes for your name and identity.
• You may choose whether or not I can make an audio recording of our conversation; if I make an audio recording, it will be destroyed after a transcript has been prepared and anonymized (with the removal of legal names, etc).
• My data from this project (notes, transcripts of recordings, etc) will be kept secure on a password-protected computer that only I have access to.
• If you have other specific requests about your identifying information, please ask me and I will do my best to accommodate them.

In what languages may I participate in this project?

English is my first and most fluent language, but I am also willing to conduct interviews in French, si vous me pardonnerai pour toutes mes fautes.

Do you have any of these statuses?

Nope! My personal feelings about the concept of trusted traveller status are very complicated, which I'd be happy to talk about in person…but I'll also admit, the prospect of paying for all four of my family members to get them (me, my partner, our two kids) is a major factor in why we don't have them. My brother has a NEXUS card, though, because he went to university in Buffalo. And every time I sit in a Friday evening traffic jam at the Alexandra Bay crossing on I-81 in upstate New York while on my way to a long weekend at my mother's house, I start muttering about applying for one…

How can I contact you?

Lots of ways!

• My email is emily.wills at uottawa dot ca, or emilyreganwills at gmail. (If you're worried about privacy, my uottawa email is probably better, because gmail retains a lot of data.)
• You can contact me on Twitter at [twitter.com profile] ajnabieh, via Facebook here, or on Tumblr at [tumblr.com profile] ajnabieh.
• You can call my office: 613-562-5800 x2426. However, I am not always there during the day to answer the phone, and if I do not respond to a voicemail, it may be that I haven't seen it's there, so email or social media are probably better ways to contact me.
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ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

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