Trial: US border agents repeatedly questioned Twin Cities imam about his religion

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A Twin Cities imam and two other American Muslims have said they were subjected to unlawful and invasive interrogation by US border agents at various airports and land crossings about their religion and religious practices upon returning to their home country. native country.

The allegations were brought in a civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Central California on behalf of the plaintiffs by the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In several instances, when the three men were returned to the United States after overseas travel, officers from the United States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations questioned them. questions, including whether they were Muslims, which mosque they attended and how often they prayed. The lawsuit also alleges that the responses are stored in a law enforcement database for up to 75 years.

Claimant Abdirahman Aden Kariye, an imam at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, said in a statement released by the ACLU: “Every time I return home to the United States, I feel anxious. … I am constantly worried about how I will be perceived, so much so that I try to avoid drawing attention to my faith I normally wear a Muslim prayer cap, but I no longer wear it at the airport to avoid being questioned by border officials.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Kariye said: “Every time we met, the environment was coercive, and it was clear that I was not free to leave. … My spiritual beliefs and religious practices are not appropriate subjects to be questioned. CBP must end this practice and train its officers to understand that Muslims have the same rights as everyone else. »

The central defendant among the four named in the lawsuit is Mark Morgan, acting in his official capacity as Director of CBP. An agency spokesperson, Kris Grogan, declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, explaining, “CBP does not comment on pending litigation. Lack of comment should not be construed as an agreement or stipulation with one of the claims.”

Kariye, according to the lawsuit, is on the US government’s terrorism watch list, which means “he will continue to be the subject of[ed] detention, searches and interrogations, including religious interrogations, whenever he returns to the United States.”

Kariye, 30, who became a US citizen as a child, said “the government won’t tell me why” he is on the list.

The lawsuit details five instances, as recently as January 1 and dating back to September 2017, when Kariye was asked in-depth questions about faith upon his return to the United States.

New Year’s Day at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after visiting Somalia, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates, Kariye says a border agent detained him for 1 12 hours and asked him about his religious beliefs, practices, associations before saying, “’I guess you’re a Muslim, aren’t you?’ “

The lawsuit alleges that in February 2019, two border agents detained Kariye for three hours as he drove across the border from Canada to Blaine, Washington, and told him “he would not be free to leave s ‘he didn’t answer their questions’ about his origins and his religious practices.

The ACLU argues that these issues violate constitutional rights to religious freedom and freedom from unequal treatment based on religion. The civil rights group says this type of interrogation has been a tactic of border agents against Muslims since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the Pentagon and elsewhere in 2001.

“Religious interrogation by border agents is unconstitutional, and it is long overdue for the government to be held accountable,” read a statement from Ashley Gorski, senior counsel for the ACLU’s National Security Project. “This invasive interrogation serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose and sends the harmful and stigmatizing message that the U.S. government views Muslims as inherently suspect.”

The lawsuit asks the court to impose an injunction prohibiting the Department of Homeland Security and CBP from questioning travelers about their faith at ports of entry, and to cleanse the information officers obtained through their questioning.

Joining Kariye as plaintiffs are Mohamad Mouslli, of Gilbert, Arizona, and Hameem Shah, of Plano, Texas. Besides the Twin Cities airport, the interrogations of federal agents named in the lawsuit also took place at airports serving Seattle, Los Angeles and Ottawa.

A total of four federal agency officials are being prosecuted: CBP, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Homeland Security Investigations.

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