The Windsor-Detroit tunnel border crossing has been the scene of repeated harassment of Muslims, Latinos, African Americans and others. Agents routinely violate the basic civil rights of citizens and guests. A probe is underway., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Suit alleges feds profiled Muslim Americans at border searches
6:51 PM, April 13, 2012
A group of Muslim-Americans filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. government, alleging they were profiled, handcuffed and subject to invasive body searches at the U.S.-Canada border because of their religious and ethnic background.
Filed in Detroit, the lawsuit is the latest case involving allegations that U.S. agents are abusing their power at border crossings between the U.S. and Canada. Three other lawsuits have been filed in federal court over the past year involving women of non-Muslim backgrounds who also say they’ve been subject to invasive strip searches.
Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of four local Muslim-Americans by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Shereef Akeel, a Huntington Woods attorney. The suit was filed after the Council had filed complaints last year with the civil rights office of the Department of Homeland Security. A department official, Margo Schlanger, said last year it was legally unable to deal with the complaints.
And so the lawsuit was filed, said Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The lawsuit says several local Muslims, including the imam of a big mosque in Canton, were at various times detained, handcuffed, strip searched, and interrogated for hours.
Sometimes, agents would surround their car with guns. Agents would ask questions like: Which mosque do you go to? How many times a day do you pray? Who is your religious leader? Do you perform your morning prayer at the mosque?
“The questioning and treatment…humiliates Muslim American travelers…and wrongly stigmatizes them as violent threats based solely on…their religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says.
The suit alleges the men’s constitutional rights were violated; it was filed against three federal agencies, Customs Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, and the FBI. In one case, the suit alleges, two FBI agents questioned one of the plaintiffs at his home about his religious practices. The questioning came months after he had faced similar questions at the border.
A spokesman for the local office of Customs Border Protection, Ken Hammond, said the federal agency “strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion.” Hammond added that their department follows the Department of Justice’s rules on how they consider race. A spokesman for the Detroit FBI did not comment on the lawsuit; in the past, the FBI has said it does target people based on their religion.
One of the plaintiffs, Wissam Charafeddine, 35 of Dearborn, says he gets repeatedly detained when he crosses the border. He’s married with two daughters, has no criminal record, coaches youth soccer, and was a Scoutmaster for five years with the Boy Scouts. But every time Charafeddine of Dearborn has crossed the border into the U.S. from Canada in the last three years, he says he has been detained, fingerprinted and body searched — “where every part of the body is touched and squeezed” — while agents peppered him with questions. One time, he said, he was separated from his family and jailed in a cold cell for five hours as his 1-year-old daughter cried for milk.
One time, on Dec. 5, 2010, he said he was detained for almost four hours, from 12:20 a.m. to 3:48 a.m., after agents searched his entire body and went through everything in his car, including his cell phone.
“It really makes you feel humiliated,” Charafeddine told the Free Press last year. “It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in America.”
The other plaintiffs include Kheireddine Bouzid, of Ypsilanti, Abdulrahman Cherri, of Dearborn Heights, and Imam Ali Sleiman Ali, the senior cleric at the Muslim Community Center of Western Suburbs, a Canton mosque. Cherri said that during the seven times he crossed the border, he was “subjected to invasive body searches, fingerprinted, detained for several hours, and questioned regarding his religion and religious practices,” the lawsuit said.