DEARBORN — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has agreed to create a Detroit-based U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) community relations position that will be dedicated to building trust and working with Michigan’s Arab and Muslim American communities, and other impacted communities.
The liaison position comes after years of deliberation between various DHS administrations with local community leaders about the treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans at the border and airports.
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) had facilitated much of that discussion. Earlier this month, Peters hosted DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Dearborn to meet with leaders from Michigan’s Arab and Muslim American communities to discuss civil rights issues, including the challenges often confronted by members of these communities when going through security screening while traveling.
That meeting included Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, The Arab American News Publisher Osama Siblani, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and more.
“This is welcoming news and hopefully a first step of many addressing the needs and concerns of Dearborn residents,” said Hammoud. “These changes were only made possible due to the relentless advocacy of so many residents and organizations working collectively. We will continue to do so until fair and just treatment is made a reality for all who interact with DHS.”
Siblani said Mayorkas told the community during the meeting that he is committed to addressing the issue by appointing a senior liaison with authority to be available to discuss and resolve any complaint the community has at the borders and the airport.
“I was very happy to see that Secretary Mayorkas and Senator Peters delivered very quickly on their commitment to address the long standing complaints of our community about the mistreatment at the airport and borders,” Siblani said. “He delivered on his promise.”
I was very happy to see that Secretary Mayorkas and Senator Peters delivered very quickly on their commitment to address the long standing complaints of our community about the mistreatment at the airport and borders. – Osama Siblani, The Arab American News publisher
On Wednesday, Peters joined CBP Deputy Commissioner Troy Miller and Mayor Hammoud for a virtual meeting, which included a discussion of the new position, which will be charged with serving as the key liaison between Michigan’s Arab and Muslim American communities and CBP leadership in Michigan and Washington, D.C. to help address these and other community concerns.
Over years of intense scrutiny on travel of those identifying with Arab nationalities and the Muslim faith, the community had shared with local leaders stories of potentially discriminatory, invasive and humiliating screening processes, concerns that were then communicated to DHS to no avail.
At the Dearborn meeting earlier this month, Siblani had told Mayorkas that Arab American community members, including himself, had met with at least four secretaries of the DHS, two under the Obama administration and one under the Trump administration, with no tangible results.
“We were told to keep complaining,” Siblani said. “Mayorkas told us this time ‘we will do something about it’ and he did.”
In 2019, in an ongoing effort to address concerns over the use of a so-called terrorist watchlist for individuals, many of whom are disproportionately Arab American, suspected of being national security hazards, Peters organized a meeting with representatives from both the Arab American community and federal officials in Washington.
We still need to see what the role of this person will be… how it goes to resolve the issues that members of the community are complaining about. But this is a good start; this is more progress we’ve made than with four other previous secretaries of the DHS. — Nasser Beydoun, BRIDGES co-chair
Peters also informed Siblani of the position’s confirmation Wednesday afternoon.
“Community leaders have long raised serious concerns about experiences with the travel screening process and this new role will be a vital link between these communities and CBP officials to help address these concerns and other important civil rights issues,” Peters said. “This is a key step to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security and its component agencies are effectively serving all of our communities.”
Nasser Beydoun, the chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL), said the new position is an important step forward in border relations and the Arab and Muslim American community, but he is waiting to see the details.
“Secretary Mayorkas should be commended for following up so quickly on suggestions we made to him when he was here in Dearborn,” Beydoun told The Arab American News. “But we still need to see what the role of this person will be, how it benefits the community and how it goes to resolve the issues that members of the community are complaining about. But this is a good start; this is more progress we’ve made than with four other previous secretaries of the DHS.”
The first step in solving the problem is good communication. This position creates a way for our issues to be heard through the channels it has opened up. — Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Abed Hammoud
Beydoun is also the co-chair of BRIDGES, a partnership between federal law enforcement agencies and leaders in the Arab American and Middle Eastern communities in the Metro Detroit region.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Abed Hammoud echoed the importance of the measure as a hopeful positive first step in bettering traveling outcomes for Arab and Muslim travelers.
“It’s not often that you have people in government, or politicians, that make a promise and then deliver on that promise; it’s truly great,” Hammoud said. “The first step in solving the problem is good communication.
“This position creates a way for our issues to be heard through the channels this has opened up… Things will get better hopefully for our community at the border and for law enforcement, as they do their job best when there is more cooperation between them and the community.”
Community leaders also met with the CBP this week as follow up to Mayorkas’ earlier Dearborn visit.
Hammoud, Beydoun and others who have worked on the issue for years thanked Peters’ efforts in delivering something tangible.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, also welcomed the creation of the Detroit-based community relations position within DHS.
“We welcome this new DHS liaison to the Arab-American and Muslim communities and hope it results in increased cooperation and coordination on issues related to civil and religious rights at our nation’s borders and airports,” said CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid.