A local faith leader is among the three Muslim Americans who have filed a federal lawsuit after being harassed over their religion by U.S. border officials, including unconstitutional questioning over where and how they pray, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Minnesota, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California said.
“On multiple occasions, when the plaintiffs came home from traveling abroad, officers asked them inappropriate religious questions, including whether they are Muslim, whether they attend a mosque, which mosque they attend, whether they are Sunni or Shi’a, and how often they pray,” a statement said.
The organizations said in the statement that the three plaintiffs, all of whom are U.S. citizens, seek to have records relating to their harassment expunged. Officers who questioned them “retain the answers in a law enforcement database for up to 75 years.” Imam Abdirahman Aden Kariye, the faith leader harassed by officials, said he’s “proud to be a Muslim.” But now the harassment has left him feeling anxious whenever he travels.
“I’m constantly worried about how I will be perceived, so much so that I try to avoid calling any attention to my faith,” he said in the statement. He said he no longer wears his prayer cap when traveling, out of fear it will lead to more questioning. “It’s terrible to feel you have to hide an essential part of who you are from your own government,” he continued. “I shouldn’t be questioned because of my religion.”
Named in the lawsuit are Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas, and top officials with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which operates under ICE. The civil rights groups said the questioning “violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedoms of religion and association, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In addition, because CBP and HSI specifically single out Muslim Americans for such questioning, they also violate the First and Fifth Amendments’ protections against unequal treatment on the basis of religion.”
“This questioning is part of a broader 20-year practice of border officials targeting Muslim American travelers because of their religion,” they continued.
In just one example, the Muslim American mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey was wrongfully detained after flying back to John F. Kennedy Airport in 2019, and during the nearly three hours he was held, questioned about whether he knew any terrorists. Mayor Mohamed Khairullah and his family had already been targeted when flying out of JFK, when their then-14-month-old baby was selected for secondary screening. This harassment by U.S. border officials is nothing new.
“Religious questioning by border officers is unconstitutional, and it’s past time for the government to be held to account,” said ACLU’s National Security Project senior staff attorney Ashley Gorski. “This invasive questioning serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose, and conveys the harmful and stigmatizing message that the U.S. government views Muslims as inherently suspicious.”
“What I experienced at the hands of CBP when coming back to my own country still haunts me,” said another plaintiff, Hameem Shah. “I thought that being an American meant that I and others are free to practice any religion that we choose. It concerns me that other Americans and visitors to this country may also be unfairly targeted and humiliated based solely on their religious beliefs. This practice is fundamentally incompatible with the values this country was founded on.”
A damning report released by the ACLU of Michigan last year also revealed widespread racial profiling of Latinos in the state, including many U.S. citizens and residents with legal status.
“Although people of Latin American origin comprise just 16.8% of the state’s foreign-born population, 85% of noncitizens apprehended by Border Patrol were from Latin America,” the report said. “The agency uses ‘complexion codes’ to describe people apprehended,” the report also noted. “Tellingly, more than 96% of those apprehended are recorded as being ‘Black,’ ‘Dark Brown,’ ‘Dark,’ ‘Light Brown,’ ‘Medium Brown,’ ‘Medium,’ or ‘Yellow.’”
But while House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties called for answers, lawmakers said Mayorkas missed the deadline to respond. “Right now, the fact is DHS regrettably hasn’t turned any documents over,” committee member Rashida Tlaib told ClickOnDetroit, nearly a month past the deadline.