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ACLU lawsuit: US border officials repeatedly question Twin Cities imam about religion

The lawsuit calls the questioning illegal and invasive.
Imam Abdirahman Aden Kariye

Imam Abdirahman Aden Kariye

Three Muslim Americans, including an imam from the Twin Cities, say they've been asked illegal, invasive questions by U.S. border agents when returning to the U.S. after international travel. 

The line of questioning included inquiries about their religion, what mosque they attend, if they're Sunni or Shi'a, and how often they pray, which is unconstitutional, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Minnesota and ACLU of California. 

Their answers are then kept in a law enforcement database for up to 75 years, the lawsuit alleges. 

"... Whenever I travel back home to the United States, I’m anxious," Abdirahman Aden Kariye, an imam at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, said in an ACLU news release. "I'm constantly worried about how I will be perceived, so much so that I try to avoid calling any attention to my faith. I normally wear a Muslim prayer cap, but I no longer wear it at the airport to avoid being questioned by border officials. 

"It’s terrible to feel you have to hide an essential part of who you are from your own government. I shouldn’t be questioned because of my religion," Kariye said. 

The lawsuit says this questioning by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) violates their First and Fifth Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, alleging unequal treatment on the basis of religion because CBP and HSI singled out Muslim Americans with their questioning. 

Kariye, a U.S. citizen, is among the three plaintiffs listed in the federal lawsuit. The others are Mohamad Mouslli of Gilbert, Arizona, and Hameem Shah of Plano, Texas.

The lawsuit details five instances, dating from September 2017 to Jan. 1 of this year, in which Kariye was asked questions about his faith when he returned to the U.S. after overseas trips. In each instance, the lawsuit says Kariye was taken to an area away from other travelers, usually a windowless room, and questioned at length. Officials would take his belongings from him and search his electronic devices. 

Kariye is on the U.S. government watchlist but he does not know why, the lawsuit says. But the apparent placement on this list has led to him being questioned in a secondary inspection area whenever he returns from international travel. 

The ACLU says the questioning Kariye and the two other plaintiffs faced is "part of a broader 20-year practice of border officials targeting Muslim American travelers because of their religion."

“This invasive questioning serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose, and conveys the harmful and stigmatizing message that the U.S. government views Muslims as inherently suspicious," Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement. 

The lawsuit is asking the U.S. District Court to declare that this questioning violates the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also seeks an injunction barring the Department of Homeland Security and CBP from questioning the plaintiffs about their faith at ports of entry, and the expungement of records reflecting information border officials obtained through this type of questioning. 

The lawsuit names Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Mark Morgan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Tae D. Johnson, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and Steve K. Francis, acting executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations as defendants.

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