Monday, March 27, 2017

Arab, Latino Leaders Have Tense Meetings With Homeland Security Chief
Niraj Warikoo and Kathleen Gray
Detroit Free Press
1:52 p.m. ET March 27, 2017

John Kelly listens to concerns about what community leaders say is profiling and targeting of their communities

In a meeting today with Arab-Americans and Muslims in Dearborn, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stood up at one point and threatened to leave after a community advocate accused the department of targeting their communities, according to people who attended the meeting.

The tense exchange took place during a hour-long meeting at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, where Kelly met with several Arab-American and Muslim advocates as part of a visit to metro Detroit. At a separate earlier meeting with immigrant, Latino, and Chaldean advocates, some also criticized the department for allegedly targeting minority groups.

The frictions illustrated the concerns that some groups in Michigan have been feeling this year under the administration of President Donald Trump, who has said immigration enforcement and security are top concerns. Department officials strongly deny they single out people based on their background.

At the meeting, Nabih Ayad, an active civil rights leader and attorney who is founder of the Dearborn-based Arab American Civil Rights League, said he pressed Kelly about executive orders from his department that target six Muslim-majority nations. He also mentioned alleged profiling of Arabs and Muslims at ports of entry. Ayad said he asked Kelly to create a record of who gets stopped for questioning at ports of entry so there can be data to see if there is disproportionate targeting of Arabs and Muslims.

"He stood up and walked away almost," Ayad said. "He said, I'm leaving unless you decide to stop your questions and have someone else ask a question. ... He actually got out his seat."

Ayad said he then stopped and another Arab-American advocate started to speak. Ayad's account was confirmed by two other Arab-Americans who attended the meeting. U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, who had invited Kelly to Michigan, were also at the meeting.

Ayad said he was frustrated that Kelly was not acknowledging what he and other advocates say is the profiling of Arabs and Muslims by law enforcement.

"We need an accounting of how many Arab-Americans and Muslims are stopped at the border," Ayad said he told Kelly. "It seem as if he didn't want to listen."

Speaking later to reporters, Kelly said “Every single time a foreigner or an American citizen comes into this country, they generally move straight through the process. A very tiny number are set aside for additional screening that’s not based on religion or color or politics, and I reject anyone that makes that claim."

David Lapan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), confirmed an exchange took place at the Arab-American museum, saying in a statement: "One participant in a meeting with leaders of the Arab American community incessantly pressed the Secretary, incorrectly alleging that DHS officials engage in targeting and racial profiling of Arabs and religious profiling of Muslims.

Secretary Kelly reiterated that CBP and ICE officers carry out their duties professionally, humanely and in accordance with the law, noting that they do not target individuals based on race, religion or political views. When the participant insisted on stalling the meeting and repeating the same erroneous allegations, Secretary Kelly made his frustration known. The meeting continued and concluded as planned."

Lapan added: "Overall, the Secretary found his discussions with the Arab-American leaders, as well as other meetings on Monday with immigration advocates and the DHS Middle Eastern Law Enforcement Officers Association, incredibly productive.  He appreciates Senator Peters hosting him today in Michigan as he always values input from community members, elected and law enforcement officials, as well as DHS front-line professionals."

Lapan said that  "Secretary Kelly had frank, honest and productive discussions this morning with members of Michigan's Arab-American community."

Speaking later to reporters at a cargo facility in Detroit near the border with Canada, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters said: “We certainly heard a lot of frustration from folks in the meetings with the way the recent executive order has been rushed through. The Secretary heard those comments and he took them to heart. If we need to make changes, this is the beginning of how we make changes to those policies to make sure we balance the need for homeland security to keep us safe, but also to make sure the commerce we see here moving behind us goes forward."

After arriving at Detroit Metro Airport this morning, Sec. Kelly met in a room at the airport with a group of immigrant, Latino, and Chaldean leaders, according to several people who attended the meeting.

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, attended the meeting at the airport, expressing concern about the plight of Christians and other minority groups in Iraq. Manna also talked about concerns about Chaldeans (Iraqi Catholics) in metro Detroit being deported.

Manna asked Kelly for the U.S. to increase the number of Christian refugees allowed in.

"We talked about what we feel is a disparity in the amount of Christians being allowed to come from the Middle East," Manna said. "There is a genocide against the Chaldean community by ISIS. There's been a slow down in the number of Christian refugees being allowed to come here."

He said he also told Kelly that Chaldeans in the U.S. fear getting deported because "if they are sent back to Iraq, it will amount to a death sentence."

Dr. Yahya Basha, a West Bloomfield doctor who is an Arab-American and Muslim advocate, said the meeting generally went "very well." Basha said Kelly was "very friendly, very open-minded."

During the meeting, Kelly defended the work of employees at the Department of Homeland Security, saying "I'm not going to put my men down," according to Basha.

He also defended questioning at borders and airports amid complaints that Muslims are singled out.

"He defended the questioning of people at the airports and the border," Basha said. He said "people to have to be questioned, it's not about religion."

At both meetings, Arab-American and Latino leaders expressed concern about the negative effects that aggressive immigration enforcement is having on the economy, especially in areas like southwest Detroit.

At the meeting at the airport, some who attended expressed concern about recent raids of immigrants in Detroit, Pontiac, Ypsilanti that have unnerved some communities. On March 18, federal law enforcement detained 50 Latino immigrants in Detroit, one of the biggest operations in memory in metro Detroit. They were transferred to a detention center in Youngstown, Ohio, raising concerns about having proper access to counsel.

"The meeting was brief and advocates had very limited opportunity to explain the depth of our concerns," said Susan Reed, with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, who attended the meeting. I hope that through follow up with other DHS (Department of Homeland Security) staff present at the meeting we are able to address the serious matters we raised."

"I raised my concern that detainees ...were taken to Youngstown and would have their hearings in Kansas City," Reed said. "I pointed out the extreme chilling effect on access to counsel that distant detention and even more distant courts in third locations has and urged coordination in the event of future major enforcement actions to ensure local detention space or alternatives to detention were available.  Sec. Kelly indicated very clearly that people would be detained wherever there was bed space available."

Speaking to reporters later, Kelly said “We’re almost at a crisis right now because you’ve got 11 million people in America who are below the radar. Most of them aren’t bad people, some of them are. We’re after the worst of the worst. But I can’t ignore the law. I’m told repeatedly to ignore laws by public officials and I can’t do it.”

Kelly said during the meeting that immigration agents only target undocumented immigrants with a criminal record or another negative factor, Reed said.

"Our experience on the ground does not reflect that," Reed said. "Instead, we have seen many examples of ordinary people going about the basic business of their lives encountering ICE and being detained and placed in removal (deportation) proceedings."

Also attending the meeting at the Arab-American National Museum in Dearborn was Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, Hassan Jaber, chief executive officer of ACCESS, formerly known as Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, and Fatima Salaman, a board member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council who's a youth leader.

Salaman said she told Kelly about the concerns of Muslim youth in a climate of anti-Muslim prejudice.

"I mentioned to the Secretary, when I grew up, I never was at odds between my American identity and my Muslim identity," Salaman said. Now, she said, Muslim-American youth feel "this bit of us versus them mentality" among politicians that "could cause problems with these kids."

Contact Niraj Warikoo: or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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