Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, July 18, 2011
Muslims To Protest Mistreatment At US-Canada Border
Liz Jones 07/15/2011
Some Seattle–area Muslims claim discrimination and harassment at Canadian border crossings has worsened in the past few years. They plan to protest this Sunday at the Peace Arch in Blaine. KUOW's Liz Jones reports.
Lynnwood resident Jeff Siddiqui says he gets an uneasy feeling at the US–Canada border, but just when he's crossing back home, into the US.
Siddiqui: "There's a knot in my gut. I'm just expecting them to say something."
Siddiqui moved here from Pakistan in the late 1970s. He's been a US citizen for 25 years. He's a real estate agent and a well–known representative of the local Muslim community.
Siddiqui says, every couple weeks, another Muslim will tell him about their negative border experience and the questions customs officers ask them:
Siddiqui: "What mosque do you go to? What do you pray there? Why are you Muslim? Do you intend to commit terrorist acts in America? I mean, these are ridiculous questions."
Siddiqui says the situation's been tense for Muslims at the border since 9/11. And he thinks it just keeps getting worse. On a recent trip home from Canada, Siddiqui says he was infuriated when a US Customs officer asked him:
Siddiqui: "'You have anything in your van that you don't want me to find?' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well, like terrorists, or guns or grenades under the seat?'"
Siddiqui filed a complaint. He says he got a form–letter response.
Statistics about whether complaints like this are on the rise were not immediately available from US Customs. Thomas Schreiber is a spokesman for the federal agency. He says complaints are taken seriously and profiling is not tolerated. He also explains that customs officers don't follow any set line of questioning.
Schreiber: "What we do is we take what's known intelligence out there, we look at travel patterns, behavior responses, audio queuing and visual observations during the inspection process. But there is no set pattern."
Schreiber says all customs officers receive training about diversity and Arab cultures. But he suggests some people may stray from the guidelines.
Schreiber: "We are in a people–based environment and you cannot engineer out human nature. You can only provide continual training, leadership and oversight. And that's what we strive to do."
Jeff Siddiqui acknowledges he's also had good exchanges with US Customs officers. He just wants that to become more of the rule, not the exception. I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.
DHS to Probe CAIR-MI Complaints on Border Questioning of Muslims
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SOUTHFIELD, Mich., May 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) today welcomed a decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) to launch an investigation into potential civil rights violations and profiling of Muslims by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at the United States-Canada border.
On March 24, CAIR-MI filed complaints with both DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking civil and potentially criminal investigations into dozens of reports from constituents who reported that CBP agents pointed firearms at them, detained and handcuffed them without predication of crimes or charges, and questioned them about their worship habits.
Questions reportedly asked of Michigan Muslims by CBP agents have included:
* How many times a day do you pray?
* Do you pray your morning prayer in the mosque?
* Who else prays in your mosque?
Those detained by CBP agents report that the same questions are asked every time they crossed the border.
Video: Muslims Say They've Been Harassed at Border (CAIR)
In a letter to CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Lena Masri, DHS Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Margo Schlanger wrote in part:
"The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties received information from you on March 24, 2011, concerning repeated handcuffing, brandishing of weapons, prolonged detentions, invasive and humiliating body searches at the border, and inappropriate questioning that pertains to religion and religious practices by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel.
"Under 6 U.S.C. § 345 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000ee-1, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has the responsibility to review and assess complaints against Department of Homeland Security employees and officials concerning violations of civil rights, civil liberties, and profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion. CRCL has received a number of complaints like yours, alleging that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have engaged in inappropriate questioning about religious affiliation and practices during border screening. We will add these complaints to the investigation we are opening on this subject...
"This Office takes allegations of violations of civil rights and civil liberties very seriously. The purpose of our review is to assess if your complaint implicates issues that should be addressed by Department of Homeland Security management."
"We welcome the Department of Homeland Security's decision to launch an investigation into these disturbing allegations of civil rights violations and ethnic and religious profiling," said Masri.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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