WASHINGTON, D.C., 12/29/04) – A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today called for a formal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into an incident at the Canadian border in which American Muslim citizens were apparently singled out for special security checks based on their attendance at an Islamic conference and then held until they agreed to be fingerprinted.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the incident was a disturbing example of religious profiling that would have a chilling effect on the constitutional rights of American Muslims, particularly the right to the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and the right to be “secure in their persons”¦against unreasonable searches.”
A number of the up to 40 Muslims who were singled out for questioning and fingerprinting told CAIR that they were returning from a weekend Islamic conference of more than 10,000 in Toronto when they were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the Lewiston Bridge crossing near Niagara Falls, N.Y. (CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security. For conference details, see: http://www.revivingtheislamicspirit.com/)
Several of the Muslim citizens held at the border for up to six hours on
Sunday night and Monday morning told CAIR they objected strenuously to
being fingerprinted, but were informed by CBP representatives that “you
have no rights” and that they would be held until they agreed to the
fingerprinting procedure. One person was allegedly threatened with arrest
if she attempted to leave the detention area without being fingerprinted.
CBP officials on the scene cited “orders from above” to justify their
actions. One CBP official reportedly agreed with a Muslim traveler that “it
would not look good” if the news media saw the detention area filled
exclusively with Muslims in Islamic attire. CAIR is investigating similar
reports of demands for fingerprinting of conference attendees at other
When contacted by CAIR, a CBP spokesman in Washington, D.C., initially said
fingerprinting of American citizens would be a “violation of policy.” He
later said fingerprinting would be allowed “if there was a law enforcement
reason for doing so,” but would not state what that reason might be.
Media reports on the incident quote CBP officials as saying some of the
Muslim citizens who were fingerprinted had names similar to those on watch
lists. But that claim does not explain why everyone in the group of
conference attendees, even Muslim converts, were fingerprinted.
SEE: “Muslim-Americans Say Border Inspections Were Unwarranted”
Local DHS officials now say they will hold a community meeting next week to
address the concerns of those who were forced to be fingerprinted.
“The image of a room full of American Muslim citizens apparently being held
solely because of their faith and the fact that they attended an Islamic
conference is one that should be disturbing to all Americans who value
religious freedom,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. “This incident
must be investigated to determine what the policy on fingerprinting Muslim
citizens is and who is behind it.”
Awad also urged anyone treated in a similar manner to contact CAIR’s Civil
Rights Department by calling 202-488-8787 or e-mailing
CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 30 offices and
chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance understanding
of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American
Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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