CAIR-MN Meets with U.S. Customs and Borders Officials
By CAIR MN
On Friday, December 5, CAIR-MN met with representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Director of Field Operations and the Operations Specialist traveled from Chicago for the meeting. Also present at the meeting were the Minnesota Port Director and Assistant Port Director of Passenger Operations.
The meeting was part of an effort to build relationships between the Muslim community and different government and security organizations that work in the airport in order to proactively facilitate communication, avoid cultural misunderstandings and help to educate travelers about the ways that they can possibly avoid unwanted delays at the airport.
CAIR-MN gave a brief synopsis on a variety of complaints that Muslims bring to the CAIR-MN office involving profiling and delays. One case CAIR-MN highlighted focused on a Muslim woman who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials and harassed by a supervisor as she re-entered the U.S. after a 10-day international trip. She was questioned about her heritage, including questions about her parents’ place of birth. When she refused to answer, she was told, “Heritage has everything to do with your travels. It has to do with upbringing and values.” Her luggage was searched for “religious items.” The agents clarified that an investigation has taken place and that inappropriate comments were made and apologized for such incidents. They also expressed interest in learning about the Muslim community so that incidencts like these do not occur.
The agents reiterated that if a traveler encounters inappropriate conduct by a CBP agent the travel er should immediately report the incident to the supervisor on site. If further assistance is needed, ask to speak with the Chief. Agents also explained that their job is subjective, where they are trained to assess body language and cooperation of travelers. If travelers are hostile, it probes agents to ask more intrusive questions, and there is a fine line between doing their job and being inappropriate in their questioning. CAIR-MN emphasized that these issues are more about “customer service” and treating travelers with respect. CAIR-MN suggested giving honest reasons on why questions are asked and training agents on what would be considered respectful and disrespectful conduct.
CAIR-MN also informed agents about hajj travel and distributed the CAIR-MN “Hajj Travel Guide for Officials.” CAIR-MN made the agents aware of practices and items hajj travelers may bring, such as dates and ZamZam water. CAIR-MN emphasized that if passengers carried unlawful quantities in their carry-on luggage, to not discard the holy water, as that would be disrespectful. CAIR-MN advised that they would be available to dispense of the water appropriately.
CAIR-MN and U.S. Customs and Borders agreed to meet on a monthly basis and will invite other agencies (CIS, TSA, law enforcement, etc) to join the meetings. Additionally, CAIR-MN will be offering trainings to U.S. Customs and Borders officers at the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport in the upcoming months, as well as a training on hajj prior to Hajj 2009.
CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.