A deaf tourist from Japan was illegally denied access to a sign language interpreter during hours of interrogation and detention at Daniel K. Inoyue International Airport, and was subsequently handcuffed, an ACLU discrimination complaint alleges.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The traveler, who wishes to remain anonymous because of fears of retaliation, was detained Jan. 31, shortly after landing at the airport on a trip to visit her boyfriend in Hawaii.
Details on why she was detained could not be immediately confirmed, but are believed to be related to an apparent visa violation. She was subsequently sent back to Japan.
ACLU alleges that at Honolulu airport, over the course of hours of questioning by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, the woman was denied access to an American Sign Language interpreter, despite repeated requests to be provided with one.
ACLU also said the woman was forced to communicate by lip reading and writing, and that she did not understand what was going on. An ASL interpreter was also not provided to her during an overnight detention at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu.
The woman was also denied access to an accessible phone so that she could communicate with her boyfriend and family.
And when she was transferred to the detention center, she was handcuffed behind her back, which prevented her from communicating and allegedly violated federal policies.
“I was so scared and felt alone," the woman said, in an ACLU news release. "For people with deafness, being cut off from our ways of communicating is terrifying. I have traveled a lot, but have never experienced anything like this at any airport ever.
"With this complaint, I just want to make sure that other deaf people coming through Hawaii’s airports are treated with basic respect and dignity, and that disabilities are accommodated.”
Claudia Center, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, said federal officials denied the visitor's rights "and demonstrated ignorance about how to appropriately interact with a profoundly deaf individual.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Federal Bureau of Prisons have not yet responded to ACLU on the complaint, which was filed on April 24.
But in a statement to Hawaii News Now, the agency said, "U.S. Customs and Border Protection has received the complaint and will address these accusations once our investigation is completed. CBP takes accusations of mistreatment against travelers with disabilities very seriously. CBP officers receive extensive training in disability awareness and treat all travelers with disabilities with dignity, respect and professionalism."