Forum on CBP/US Border Patrol Discrimination Against People of Color

February 24, 2012

By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Immigrant advocates from across the U.S. are in Detroit for a two-day conference aimed at finding ways to stop what they say is a growing problem of federal agents profiling and harassing minorities near the U.S. border with Canada.

“Latinos and Arab Americans are being stopped for no reason while they’re walking down the street, waiting for a bus, or driving,” said Ryan Bates, director for the Michigan branch of the Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform. Agents also are increasingly boarding public buses and trains to target Latinos and others, he said.

The Northern Border Conference, which continues today, is looking at the issue of how minority groups are treated near the border. Much of the national attention on border issues deals with the southern border with Mexico, but advocates say they are seeing more targeting of minority groups near the border with Canada.

Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, hopes to exchange ideas with other advocates. Last year, his group filed a complaint over profiling of Muslims at the U.S.-Canada border.

“Racial and religious profiling does not make our country any safer,” Walid said.

Southwest Detroit — the heart of metro Detroit’s Mexican-American community — is near the border with Canada, and some Latinos say they have been stopped more often and harassed by immigration agents.

The department has stepped up its enforcement near borders to stop illegal immigration, but some say the crackdown is affecting legal immigrants and even U.S. citizens. Federal agents have increased power within 100 miles of the border with Canada to detain suspects, a power that critics say has been misused.

One concern of advocates is that federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol often don’t have the same accountability that local police departments have.

Lidia Reyes, director of Latino Family Services in Detroit, hopes to “find a solution to address” the growing concerns of local Latinos. “There’s been a lot of abuse,” Reyes said. The community wants agents “to follow the protocol.”

Last year, federal agents conducted raids in Detroit outside an elementary school and Catholic church that are heavily Latino, sparking renewed concern about their actions.

Latino social services agencies say they have been targeted by Border Patrol agents.

In addition, Muslims and Arab Americans say they’ve been detained and interrogated at border crossings for no legitimate reason.

An internal review last year by Immigration Customs Enforcement found that its agents were not guilty of the allegations made in Detroit.

A spokesman for the Detroit office of the Department of Homeland Security did not comment Thursday on the conference.

In the past, officials have said their agents do not racially profile. The head of the department, Secretary Janet Napolitano, has told the Free Press that she was concerned about the raid on the Detroit church and would look into that case.

CAIR-MI Sues Township For Blocking Muslim School Zoning

FEBRUARY 22, 2012 AT 4:52 PM

Muslim school sues Pittsfield Twp. over denial of project


Detroit — A Muslim school filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Pittsfield Township officials for turning down its request to build a new school in the area.

Last year, Pittsfield Township denied the Michigan Islamic Academy’s zoning request to build near the intersection of Golfside and Ellsworth roads.

Officials cited traffic concerns and complaints by local residents that construction of a school in the area would affect their property values.

But local Muslim civil rights officials say the township’s actions of denying the zoning request was nothing more than an excuse to block the school from locating in the area and follows a trend of “Islamaphobia” that many Muslim communities have experienced across the country and in Michigan.

The township is “Using zoning laws to block Islamic schools and centers for no bona fide reason except to block our community from practicing our constitutional rights,” said Dawud Walid, the executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan during a news conference to announce the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Pittsfield Township officials have not commented on the issue.

An official for the Michigan Islamic Academy, currently located in Ann Arbor, said township officials initially were receptive to their plans to build on the property.

Tarek Nahlawi, a board member of the school, said the school conducted and passed two feasibility studies on traffic impact at the location.

Nahlawi said additional lighting and improvements to the school’s grounds were made in an effort to get zoning approval.

“Every time they raised the bar, we actually surpassed them,” said Nahlawi at Wednesday’s news conference.

According to the 32-page complaint accompanying the lawsuit, a Pittsfield Township planning commissioner said during a June 16, 2011 meeting that the construction of the school “would have an effect on property values.”

The school is suing the township on grounds that the township’s actions violate the federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act aimed partly at granting greater protection of religious freedom.

According to the lawsuit, township officials have imposed restrictive and “unlawful” impositions on the academy in an effort to block the school from being built.

Masri said the township had already “made up its mind up” about the school and that township officials have “no compelling government interest” as to why the school should not be built.

The Michigan Islamic Academy is a pre-school through 12th grade school with 360 students. It is on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor.

Walid said if the township’s actions go unchallenged, it would be setting a “dangerous precedent.”

“We would be seeing neo-Jim Crow-ism based on religion.”

The proposed school site is 27 acres. The total costs of the new school are estimated at $450,000, Nahlawi said.

“MIA once had a dream but the township made it a nightmare.”