A Muslim legal advocacy group in the United States accused federal agents at borders and airports of routinely selecting Muslim-American travelers and those with ethnic backgrounds perceived as Muslim for searches and interrogations on the basis of race, religion and national origin without any "evidence or even suspicious wrongdoing."
Muslim Advocates, a non-profit group of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, said in a report released earlier this month that the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection agents committed "profound privacy intrusions" without cause against law-abiding Muslim, Arab and South Asian Americans returning home from overseas travel.
The report "Unreasonable Intrusions: Investigating the Politics, Faith and Finances of Americans Returning Home," charged that federal agents routinely questioned such individuals about their religious values, political views and civic associations as well as extensively searching their laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and photocopying private documents.
These extensive interrogations are done "without evidence or even suspicion that the travelers have engaged in wrongdoing," stated the report, warning that such racial profiling does little to strengthen national security, generating false leads and wasting scarce government resources.
Racial profiling of Muslim Americans since Sept. 11, 2001 has tested the limits of democracy in America and the government's ability to balance national security concerns with individual rights of its citizens.
"These incidents from across the country suggest that the First and Fourth Amendment rights of innocent Americans are being violated," Farhana Khera president and executive director of Muslim Advocates said in a statement.
The increase of invasive interrogations has many Americans concerned about their freedom of movement.
"Delays and routine profiling have been a staple part of my travels," 34-year-old Hussain Adley, a U.S. Muslim business consultant of Egyptian-Jordanian origin, told AlArabiya.net.
"I travel frequently and mostly for work and this makes the feds meticulous about searching my belongings," he explained.
Adley said agents at the airport have downloaded documents from his laptop and questioned him about the addresses and livelihoods of people in photos on his camera and his relation to them, in addition to asking the routine questions on his religious and political beliefs.
David Evans, 26, an American citizen and a Muslim convert, has experienced intrusive searches during his frequent travels between the U.S. and Egypt, where he works as a translator.
On his latest visit to the U.S., all his documents were photocopied at the airport including his personal diary and list of contacts. He was detained and questioned at length about why he resides in Egypt and what his religious views are.
Evans explained that travel patterns are used as a pretext for racial and religious profiling. "Those who travel frequently back and forth between the same destinations are grilled more vigorously," he said.
The Muslim Advocates report listed numerous cases of U.S. citizens who have been interrogated - some even harassed - by federal agents who came from various educational and vocational backgrounds and different age groups, with the only common denominator their religion and travels to Muslim countries.
One such case was Fairuz Abdullah, a lawyer and civic leader who was wrongly forced into immigration processing and denied access of counsel despite her American citizenship.
In 2007 federal agents at the Miami International Airport "aggressively interrogated" Abdullah about her previous travels and private life after she returned from Peru. Agents continually harassed her, according to the report, threatening to confiscate her cell phone when she tried to call her lawyer and addressing her only in Spanish although she is a native English speaker.
FBI Muslim saga
Years of strained relations between the FBI and Muslim Americans lately culminated in Muslim groups threatening to cease their post-Sept. 11, 2001 cooperation with the FBI after a series of revelations that the agency infiltrated mosques and coerced the faithful into becoming informants shored up the limits of Muslim Americans’ civil rights.
"Constructive relations with any law enforcement agency must be based on mutual respect and trust," Asma Hanif Chair of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations said in a statement. "We hope that the FBI addresses these crucial issues so that trust can be restored and relations maintained."
Impact of NSEERS
Besides targeting home comers, the government has also implemented the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a counterterrorism tool that tracks non-immigrants on temporary visas.
The program requires racially profiled non-immigrants to register themselves at ports of entry for finger-prints, photographs and lengthy interrogations.
According to a report issued in March, 80,000 males, mostly Muslim and Arab, were selected, 13,799 of whom were referred to further investigations and 2,870 detained. Charges against them were mainly immigration violations such as overstaying a visa.
The impact of NSEERS has been damaging for many individuals who did not have terrorism charges or criminal histories, said the report.
Call to end racial profiling
Muslim Advocates called on the Obama administration to ban FBI guidelines issued in the Bush era which use racial and ethnic criteria as basis for investigations and to protect citizens who travel abroad and ensure that they are not subjected to unreasonable and coercive interrogations and searches without cause.
In order to "restore constitutional protections eroded by the status quo border security apparatus," the group advised President Obama to start a Homeland Security review and reform CBP policies and practices that target Muslims, Arabs and South Asian Americans and to forward the review to congressional committees.