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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Five Muslims to Sue U.S. Over Border Detentions|
|04/23/05 at 01:30:29|
|About time... I wish all the dozens of people stopped that day would sue them. How ridiculous... 30,000 people attend these conferences.. next they'll be fingerprinting ppl as they try to get into ISNA >:( -- J|
Five Muslims to Sue U.S. Over Border Detentions
By ANDREA ELLIOTT
Published: April 20, 2005
Five American Muslims will file a federal lawsuit today after they and dozens of others were detained last December by United States border agents as they returned home from a religious conference in Toronto, their lawyers said.
The Muslim men and women, all American citizens who live in New York, said they and others were held up to six and a half hours at border crossings, interrogated, photographed and fingerprinted simply because they told customs agents they had attended "Reviving the Islamic Spirit," a large annual conference organized by Muslim organizations in Canada. None of those detained had engaged in unlawful activities, their lawyers said.
Border agents near Buffalo searched the cars of those detained and confiscated some of their cellphones after they tried to call lawyers, according to the complaint their lawyers plan to file in United States District Court in Brooklyn. The three men and two women include an orthodontist, a teacher, a hotel manager and a graduate student, and are represented by lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The complaint charges that the detention, interrogation and other treatment of those held by customs officials violated their constitutional rights.
Homeland Security officials have acknowledged that at least 34 people were stopped by border agents after attending the conference. In response to questions about the suit, Valerie Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said: "The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to protect Americans from terrorism and the mission of Customs and Border Protection is to prevent terrorists and their weapons from entering our country. It is incumbent upon Customs officers to be right each and every time. Terrorists only have to get it right once." She said she could not discuss the details of the case.
None of those detained were ever charged with any crime.
The detentions have drawn national attention.
"Citizens have a right to go to religious conferences and governments don't have any authority to question them whether it's out of the country or inside the country," said Christopher Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It's no different than if this happened in Madison Square Garden."
Named as defendants in the complaint are Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, and two officials with United States Customs and Border Protection.
A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, Kristie Clemens, has been quoted widely in newspapers as stating that Muslims who attended the conference were stopped because the government had "ongoing credible information" that Islamic conferences may be used to promote terrorist activities, including fund-raising. Several calls to her were not returned.
The annual conference draws thousands of Muslims from Canada, the United States and elsewhere and features lectures by Islamic scholars, concerts and other cultural activities. Among the conference's keynote speakers, according to the complaint, was Hamza Yusuf, a prominent imam from Hayward, Calif., who has advised President Bush on Islamic issues. Organized by college students, the conference promotes peace, tolerance and unity, said several people who attended it.
Asmaa Elshinawy, 20, decided to attend the conference after reading about it on the Internet, she said. She wanted to learn how to improve the image of her faith among her fellow Americans, she said. "We have a responsibility to show people living in this country what Islam is really about," said Ms. Elshinawy, a preschool teacher who lives in Brooklyn, where she was born and raised by her Egyptian parents. "It's about peace and loving your neighbor."
Ms. Elshinawy and five friends from Brooklyn and New Jersey rented a van and attended the conference for three days. On their way home on the afternoon of Dec. 27, a border agent at the Lewiston Bridge border crossing asked them if they had "been at the conference," according to the complaint. When they said yes, they were told to pull over, and then were detained in a building, she said.
"I walked in and I saw all Muslim families inside," she said. "It looked like an Arab cafe."
Ms. Elshinawy recognized some of the people from the conference. Agents took away the women's cellphones and interrogated some of them about why they attended, she said. Their fingerprints were taken, and they were photographed. When they were released around 9 p.m., they found their van in disarray, she said. A video camera was open and its contents appeared to have been viewed, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks to have the government's actions declared unlawful, and an injunction against further enforcement of such "policies and practices," according to the complaint.
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