Holding facility to open at SFO

The Human Rights Commission is expected to formally announce today the creation of a new holding facility at the San Francisco International Airport where noncriminals denied entry can wait for a return flight home instead of having to spend time at the Santa Clara County Jail.

The new holding facility was created in the aftermath of the August 2006 detention of about 30 Iranian graduates of a prestigious engineering school. While some of the students were able to arrange for return flights in a timely manner, 16 who could not wound up spending a night at the county jail, according to Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer. None was charged with any crime, she said.

The commission subsequently held public hearings on the incident, heard testimony critical of the Iranians’ treatment and requested a new policy.

The new holding facility opened last month and was created in collaboration with the San Francisco Airport Commission and the United States Customs and Border Protection, a division of the federal Department of Homeland Security.

CBP estimates that 520 noncriminal travelers arrive in San Francisco who are determined inadmissible, and about 200 of them are put on return flights in short order, while another 320 are brought to the Santa Clara County jail until a flight can be arranged, the commission reports.

Mohajer said the past practice of carting off to jail “innocent” travelers who are denied admission was not humane treatment and also sent a bad message to foreign travelers, which could have an adverse impact on San Francisco’s No. 1 industry of tourism.

CBP spokesman Jim Kosciuk said the agency is always looking at “being as accommodating to the traveling public as possible” and acknowledged that “a jail environment is probably not very appropriate when they don’t have to be subjected to that environment.”

jsabatini@examiner.com

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