|Community activists with Peters|
DEARBORN — Senator Gary Peters (D- Mich.) met with Arab American activists and heads of organizations at the offices of The Arab American News, on Monday, Aug. 31, before leaving on an official visit to the Middle East.
The senator listened to Arab Americans’ concerns about civil rights, immigration, harassment at the border, the Syrian refugee crisis and local citizens trapped in war-torn Yemen. The attendees asked Peters to look into low number of immigration visas being issued to citizens of Arab countries.
Ali Baleed Almaklani, the executive director of the Yemen American Benevolent Association (YABA), complained to the senator of the way Yemeni Americans are treated when they leave or reenter the country.
“If you are leaving, they pull you to the side and search you and check how much money you have,” he said. “When you return, they ask you countless questions— ‘Where were you? How did you spend your time? Who did you hang out with?’”
Almaklani added that sometimes TSA agents show travelers photos of Yemeni individuals and ask them if they know the people in the photographs.
“We asked the senator to use his influence to make sure that Yemeni Americans and all Americans are treated with respect at the airport or at the border with Canada,” Almaklani told The Arab American News.
Ali Hammoud, the president of the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC), echoed Almaklani’s comments on harassment by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at the border and the airport.
Hammoud said some Arab Americans are asked about their religion and political affiliations at the airport.
He said Arab Americans have a good working relationship with the FBI, CBP and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit, but local federal officials have been unable to solve these issues.
“The problems at the border have grown to a point where we, as community leaders, are looked at as if we are doing nothing,” he said.
Peters has not made a decision on whether to endorse the Iran nuclear agreement. Arab American activists urged him to support the deal to promote world peace.
Hammoud said there was a consensus among the Arab Americans at the meeting that the senator should not oppose the deal.
“There is no alternative to this deal other than war,” Hammoud said.
He said the Arab community has supported Peters in his bid for the Senate and previously when he ran for the House, adding that as a Democrat, the senator should back Obama on the agreement.
Hammoud described the meeting as positive and productive. He said Peters promised to take Arab Americans’ concerns to Washington after returning from his trip.
Peters, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is traveling with Sen. Chris Murphy (D- Conn.), to the Middle East to meet with officials in Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Peters and Murphy will hold meetings to discuss the war against ISIS and visit a refugee camp in Jordan to learn firsthand about the role that the United States and its allies play in providing humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrian refugees.
Peters said in a statement that he is concerned with the national security threat posed by instability in the Middle East.
“Michigan service members are among the many brave men and women who have deployed in support of the mission to eliminate ISIS,” said Peters, a former lt. commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I look forward to meeting with our partners in the region to discuss our mutual goals of fighting terrorism and extremism and addressing the dire humanitarian crisis resulting from this violence.”