Muslim American groups from Southern California held a town hall meeting Monday to discuss with federal officials what they call unfair targeting of Muslim travelers and immigrants in the wake of 9/11.
Nearly 500 people attended the meeting, held at a La Mirada hotel. But not everyone on the coalition's guest list showed up.
A representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said that a week ago he invited officials from the Department of Homeland Security, including the local heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and
the Transportation Security Administration.
The officials declined, said Omar Zaki, director of government relations for CAIR's office in Anaheim. The officials said that their local offices handle only enforcement and do not set policy, Zaki said.
Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to comment Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security has "completely closed the door on this
community," said Zaki at Monday's meeting. "They've taken the position that
it isn't important for them to be here. They've avoided every opportunity
to talk with us. Their arrogance is not acceptable. This is about
The FBI, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and not Homeland
Security, did send a representative. Matt McLaughlin, special projects
coordinator for an outreach program to the Muslim community, told the
audience that the FBI "wants to be sensitive when it makes sense. Our
government isn't perfect - mistakes can occur. We are trying to treat
everyone with dignity and respect, but also do the very difficult job of
protecting you all."
In an interview before the meeting, McLaughlin said that the FBI and the
Muslim community "need to remain in dialogue, whether it's a happy day or a
sad day. I think it's important that the FBI be here to listen to the
Muslim community leaders, however, had hoped that immigration and
transportation safety officials would attend to address some of the
apprehensions in their community.
"What message are they sending?" CAIR spokeswoman Sabiha Khan asked of the
absent officials. "Whatever happened to accountability?"
Khan said the meeting was meant to give officials an opportunity to respond
to charges that Muslims are being unfairly targeted by immigration
authorities and unnecessarily scrutinized when traveling
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