Harassment of American Muslims while flying has been a persistent problem since the expansion of the national security apparatus post 9/11. Racial and religious profiling by federal agents at airports to citizens being placed on watchlists without any means of due process are ongoing civil rights challenges for our community. Despite Mr. Trump no longer remaining in the White House, the problem of American Muslims being harassed upon border reentry in Michigan appears to have recently increased during the Biden administration. This real concern must be more robustly addressed at the national level beyond local conversations with law enforcement and advocates.
Recently, CAIR-MI has received an uptick of complaints of Muslims being held for questioning by federal agents upon arrival at Detroit Metro Airport. The complaints range from Arab Americans having their electronic devices seized and passcodes demanded to access their personal information to African American Muslims being questioned about their religious activities. The reported seizure of electronic devices and demand for passcodes, which is specifically conducted by Customs Border Protection (CBP) agents, is troublesome for multiple reasons. CBP has the capacity to download all files and personal contact information from such devices which in turn is shared with the FBI. This in turn had led to citizens being visited at home by FBI agents, not simply those who were stopped by CBP agents but also citizens whose contact information was obtained from devices of those who were detained.
Congresswomen Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib have informed Muslim and Arab community leaders that they have received numerous constituent complaints and have since reached out to federal law enforcement authorities regarding this ongoing problem. CAIR has filed more than one lawsuit challenging federal watchlists, including one last month, which contributes to this issue of border harassment of American Muslims. However, the Biden administration has the authority to begin the process of dismantling protocols and procedures that led to the continued profiling of law-abiding American citizens who happened to be Muslims. As much as we as advocates talk to special agents in charge here in Michigan, we are acutely aware that they and their junior agents are executing directives coming from CBP and FBI headquarters in DC. As a U.S. Navy veteran who works under the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of my unit, I know how command structures operate and that the CBP and FBI have a chain of command like the military in which local agents follow national orders and protocols.
It is our expectation that our Michigan senators and congressmen, including Senator Gary Peters, who is the chairman of the Committee of Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, will press harder with the Biden administration to make tangible progress on this long-standing civil rights issue. If Michigan Muslims, including political appointees and military veterans, cannot get immediate relief from harassment, this would be a major failure for the Biden administration that vowed to do better by the masses of American Muslims’ civil rights in comparison to Mr. Trump. We are demanding to see more fruition to this promise.
—Dawud Walid is the executive director of CAIR-MI.