In a lawsuit, three U.S. citizens claim that every time they return to the country from an international trip, federal immigration agents question them about their Muslim faith.
After arriving from abroad, the citizens claim they are subjected to a secondary screening in which they are asked questions such as how often they pray, whether they are Sunni or Shia, and what aspects of Islam they have studied. The men believed they wouldn’t be able to leave unless they cooperated with authorities, according to the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday. The men’s First and Fifth Amendment rights were allegedly violated by the CBP agents’ actions, according to the lawsuit, because citizens of other religions are not subjected to the same level of extensive questioning about their faith. The border agents’ questioning, according to the ACLU, is part of a 20-year practice of targeting Muslim American travelers because of their religion.
“It’s past time for the government to be held accountable for religious questioning by border officers,” said Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project.
“This invasive questioning serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose and sends the harmful and stigmatizing message that the US government views Muslims as inherently suspicious,” she added.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Abdirahman Aden Kariye, said he was first questioned in 2017 after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia. According to the Journal, he has been questioned nearly every time he has returned from an overseas trip since then. Officers would question him about his religious beliefs, where he went to mosque, whether he studied Islam, and whether he listens to music, according to Kariye in an interview with the ACLU of Minnesota.
Kariye has also been placed on a US government watch list, according to the lawsuit. According to the FBI website, the list is a “single database that contains sensitive national security and law enforcement information about the identities of those who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.”
Some citizens in the United States have claimed that they were unfairly targeted by the government when they were placed on the watch list. Muslims in the United States, in particular, claim that they were added to the list solely because of their religion. A federal judge ruled in 2019 that the list, which included over 1 million people classified as “known or suspected terrorists,” infringed on citizens’ constitutional rights.
According to the press release, Kariye told the ACLU, “Traveling is a horrifying experience for me. When I land, there are two CBP agents waiting at the jet bridge with sometimes my picture printed out.”
He claims that two CBP agents take him into a windowless room and ask him intrusive questions. He called the atmosphere “humiliating” and said it makes him feel “as if you’re a criminal.” Kariye went on to say that when he is released from detention, the experience stays with him for days or weeks.
Kariye stated, “I am proud to be a Muslim. But now I’m nervous whenever I travel back to the United States. I’m constantly concerned about how I’ll be perceived, to the point where I try to avoid mentioning my faith.”
The plaintiffs are requesting that the CBP’s religious questioning be declared unconstitutional by the court. They also want the Homeland Security Department and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to stop questioning their religion at ports of entry and expunge their previous questioning records. Officers currently store answers in a database for up to 75 years.
On several other occasions, the ACLU has filed lawsuits against CBP. The agency allegedly used “secret teams” at airports across the country “to target, detain, and interrogate innocent travelers,” according to a lawsuit filed in 2019. In the same year, the group filed a lawsuit against the agency for allegedly detaining two U.S. citizens in Montana for speaking Spanish.