Sunday, April 15, 2012

Local Muslim Americans sue U.S., alleging strip searches at border

A group of Muslim Americans filed a lawsuit Friday against the U.S. government, alleging they were profiled, handcuffed and subjected to invasive body searches at the U.S.-Canada border because of their religious background.

The lawsuit filed in Detroit is the latest case involving allegations that U.S. agents are abusing their power at U.S.-Canada border crossings. Three other lawsuits have been filed in federal court during the past year involving Canadian women of non-Muslim backgrounds who also say they have been subject to invasive strip searches.

Friday's lawsuit was filed on behalf of four local Muslim-American men by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Shereef Akeel, a Huntington Woods attorney. The suit was filed after the council had filed complaints over the allegations with the civil rights office of the Department of Homeland Security last year. But that office said it didn't have the legal authority to address the complaints.

The lawsuit says that since 2008, the four men, 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 cars with guns. Agents would ask questions such as: Which mosque do you go to? How many times a day do you pray?

"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 was filed against three federal agencies: Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI. It alleges the men's constitutional rights were violated.

Ken Hammond, a spokesman for the local office of Customs Border Protection, said the agency "strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion." Hammond added that it follows the Department of Justice's rules on how race can be considered.

One of the plaintiffs, Wissam Charafeddine, 35, of Dearborn, said he repeatedly is jailed when he crosses the border. He said that every time he has crossed in the last three years, he has been fingerprinted and body searched, "where every part of the body is touched and squeezed."



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