Civil rights advocacy group says banks closed more accounts of Muslims

http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131121/METRO08/311210142/1361/Arab-American-group-says-feds-closed-more-bank-accounts-of-Muslims

November 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

Civil rights advocacy group says banks closed more accounts of Muslims

  • Mark Hicks
  • The Detroit News

The Council on American-Islamic Relations–Michigan is asking federal officials to investigate more complaints that JPMorgan Chase is allegedly closing bank accounts of Muslim customers in Metro Detroit.

“It seems like it’s solidifying our idea more that there’s a disturbing pattern going on,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI. “These aren’t just isolated incidents.”

Spurred by about a dozen complaints in the past two months, the advocacy group has contacted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates banks, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CAIR-MI also received new complaints Thursday, Walid said.

One of the latest involved the checking and savings accounts for Annisa Patimurani, a Wayne State University graduate student.

The Indonesia native, who is married to an American and started attending WSU this year, said she applied and was approved without issue. But after weeks of local purchases for books and other necessities, her debit card suddenly stopped working last month, she said.

When Patimurani of Detroit visited her local Chase bank for answers, an employee told her the accounts had been closed. The explanation on file said the bank would not open one for people with ties to foreign officials, she said.

She later received a letter from Chase saying the bank is “no longer opening personal banking accounts for current or former non-U.S officials, their immediate family or their close associates.”

Patimurani was puzzled. When applying in person, wearing a hijab, she disclosed that her parents are retired Indonesian government officials, but was told this would not be an issue in securing accounts. “I just don’t understand why they need to discriminate against us,” Patimurani said.

A Chase representative said privacy reasons prevent the company from discussing details of its customer relationships. But “on occasion, Chase determines it can no longer maintain a customer’s account but those decisions are not based on the customer’s religion, ethnicity or any other similar basis.”

CAIR-MI asks people to report recent bank closures by calling (248) 559-2247 or emailing info@cairmichigan.org.

Meanwhile, a ruling is expected soon on a lawsuit involving similar complaints against Huntington National Bank.

In July, the Arab-American Civil Rights League filed a class-action lawsuit against the bank after allegations accounts for area Muslims and residents of Middle Eastern descent were closed without cause or explanation.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the bank’s actions suggest “racial, ethnic, national origin and religious discrimination,” which violate state and federal civil rights laws. Damages were estimated at millions of dollars, and the suit seeks a temporary restraining order barring Huntington from closing accounts for discriminatory reasons.

The civil rights league this year asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and launched a complaint hotline.

Since then, more complaints — all from the minority group allegedly targeted — have frequently poured in, attorneys said.

While 25 are represented in the suit, as many as 1,000 or more in Metro Detroit could be affected by the alleged practices, said attorney Nabih Ayad, board chairman for the Arab-American Civil Rights League.

According to the complaint, a former Huntington employee has come forward with details on periodic lists bank superiors circulated instructing branches to close the accounts of customers perceived to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent.

But lawyers for Huntington Bank are asking a federal judge to have the case dismissed. In a motion filed last month, they said there was not sufficient evidence to support claims the bank discriminated against or treated them differently than other customers.

The attorneys representing the bank in the suit did not respond to requests for comment.

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