WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security is examining the
detentions and interrogations of dozens of Muslims who were stopped at
border crossings in Upstate New York while returning to the USA from Canada
in December, DHS spokeswoman Kristi Clemens said Tuesday.
The moves by the DHS’ civil rights and inspector general’s offices come
after an emotional meeting last week in Buffalo between members of the
local Muslim Public Affairs Council and Michael Battle, the U.S. attorney
Khalid Qazi, president of the Muslim group, said several Buffalo-area
Muslims complained that they were unnecessarily held, fingerprinted and
questioned by border agents for more than four hours. He said it was
“degrading, humiliating and dishonorable.”
The DHS inquiries will examine whether U.S. border agents incorrectly
detained the Muslims by misusing a government database that is aimed at
identifying potential terrorism suspects and violent gang members.
The list, which is kept by the FBI and is known as the Violent Gang and
Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF), is part of a network of databases that
have been compiled by U.S. agencies since the Sept. 11 attacks to monitor
traffic at border crossings and airports.
The VGTOF list includes hundreds of names. It has been expanded during the
past three years to include “associates” of suspected terrorists and gang
leaders. The FBI acknowledges that in some cases, people have been flagged
for increased scrutiny only because their names are similar to someone who
has been targeted for surveillance, or because they unwittingly have had
contact with the targets.
Under federal guidelines, such “associates” are not supposed to be detained
or questioned. U.S. agents who come across them are merely supposed to make
note of them as possible contacts in investigations.
But recently, the FBI has received complaints that people with no apparent
links to terrorism or gangs are being held for hours with little or no
explanation at border crossings in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, N.Y”¦
AMERICAN MUSLIMS FINGERPRINTED BY U.S. AT CANADIAN BORDER