Bush Administration Religious Profiling Sparks Federal Lawsuit
Three influential civil rights groups charged Wednesday that border control tactics used by the Department of Homeland Security discriminate against U.S. citizens solely on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
NEW YORK, Apr 20 (IPS) – Three influential civil rights groups charged Wednesday that border control tactics used by the Department of Homeland Security discriminate against U.S. citizens solely on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In simultaneous news conferences held in New York City and Buffalo, on the Canadian border, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union announced that they were suing the head of the Department of Homeland Security over the practice of targeting U.S. citizens participating in religious conferences outside the United States.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court on behalf of five Muslim-Americans who, along with dozens of others, were detained for six and a half hours, interrogated, fingerprinted, and photographed at the Canadian border crossing to Buffalo as they returned home from an annual Islamic conference in Toronto.
”None of the plaintiffs had engaged in any unlawful conduct nor any other conduct that would justify the mistreatment to which they were subjected but instead were subjected to this treatment solely because they had attended the conference,” court documents charged.
Catherine Y. Kim, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told IPS that the action taken at the border ”is part of a broader pattern of profiling innocent individuals — in this case American citizens — solely on the basis of their religion, ethnicity or exercise of First Amendment protected rights.”
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the government from taking similar actions against other citizens and seeks the return or removal from government databases of all information obtained from the plaintiffs during their detention.
”During the detentions, border agents confiscated cell phones when they learned that those being held were attempting to contact lawyers or the media,” the suit charges.
”The same religious conference is scheduled to take place again in December 2005, and the plaintiffs all want to attend it but are reluctant to do so if they will be subjected to similar treatment.”
CAIR National Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar declared, ”When American citizens are targeted by their own government and detained, searched, fingerprinted, and photographed with threat of arrest for committing no crime, this is not only unacceptable and unlawful, but also unconstitutional and un-American.”
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, with 31 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. 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.
The suit says that on three occasions since January 2003, a large religious assembly known as the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Conference has been held in Toronto, Canada.
Organised by college students and considered the largest Islamic conference in Canada, the RIS Conference is a mainstream cultural and religious gathering that advocates peace, tolerance, and unity. It features speakers, includes religious activities, and has been endorsed by prominent politicians.
The most recent RIS Conference took place in late December 2004 at a stadium in downtown Toronto called the Skydome. As in prior years, the Canadian government welcomed the December 2004 conference.
Several Canadian officials addressed the gathering, including the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty; Toronto Mayor David Miller; and Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Among the conference’s keynote speakers was Hamza Yusuf, a U.S. citizen and prominent imam from Hayward, California, who has advised President George W. Bush on several occasions on matters regarding Islam. Yusuf sat near First Lady Laura Bush during the president’s Sep. 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress.
Valerie Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, would not discuss details of the case, but told the New York Times: ”The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to protect Americans from terrorism and the mission of Customs and Border Protection is to prevent terrorists and their weapons from entering our country.”
”It is incumbent upon Customs officers to be right each and every time. Terrorists only have to get it right once.”
None of those detained returning from the December 2004 conference were charged with any crime. (END)