College Student Arrested in Dubai for Touching Arm of Airport Security Guard

A 21-year-old student from Lehman College in the Bronx, New York City, has been sentenced to a year in prison by the United Arab Emirates. Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was accused of “assaulting and insulting” an airport security guard during a flight connection in Dubai over the summer. The incident occurred while she was returning home from a vacation in Istanbul with a friend.

De Los Santos’ sentence was handed down on Monday, after she had spent nearly three months in Dubai due to a travel ban issued against her. The advocacy group Detained in Dubai has been providing support for her during this time. According to the group, De Los Santos had only planned to transit through Dubai for six hours. However, she ended up spending months in the city, incurring expenses and legal costs amounting to $50,000.

The incident that led to De Los Santos’ detention occurred on July 14. She and her friend had initially planned to connect home through Paris, but they changed their flight to transfer in Dubai to experience the renowned city during a 10-hour layover. However, their experience turned out to be far from what they had anticipated.

While going through security at the Dubai airport, De Los Santos was asked to remove a waist compressor she was wearing due to a recent surgery. She was taken to a private booth where female staff members removed the compressor. De Los Santos’ mother, who spoke to Detained in Dubai, claimed that the staff were rough and caused pain to her daughter’s still-healing surgical scars. They also allegedly laughed at her and refused to help her put the garment back on.

Feeling violated and uncomfortable, De Los Santos called out to her friend for help. “I gently touched her arm to guide her out of the way, then desperately started crying to my friend for help,” she told Detained in Dubai.

This action led to her being detained in a room for hours as the security guard filed a complaint against her. She was not allowed to leave until she signed a form written in Arabic.

When De Los Santos returned to the airport to catch her flight to New York, she was informed of the travel ban filed against her. She was forced to stay in the country until her case was heard in court. After spending weeks in hotels, a judge allowed her to pay 10,000 AED (approximately $2,700 US) and leave. However, Dubai prosecutors appealed the ruling, and she was eventually sentenced to a year in prison.

The US State Department has stated that they are “aware of the detention of a U.S. citizen in Dubai.” Lehman College, where De Los Santos is a student, has not commented on her situation. De Los Santos is not the only American to have recently found themselves trapped in Dubai under similar circumstances. In August, a 29-year-old woman from Houston was allowed to return home after spending months in the country for yelling at a rental car clerk.