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Muslim Group Requests Relief From Border Searches Upon Return From Religious Convention in Toronto

On December 15, 2005, a group of Muslims sought a preliminary injunction in federal court in the Eastern District of New York (hat tip: Religion Clause).  They were represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union and requested that the Court prevent the Department of Homeland Security from detaining, interrogating, fingerprinting and photographing American citizens at the border simply because they attended an Islamic conference in Toronto, as had been done upon return from the same conference in December of 2004. 

According to the NYCLU, it was  learned after the detentions in 2004 "that the border agents were obeying a Department of Homeland Security directive instructing them to detain, frisk, photograph and fingerprint individuals who crossed the border on their return from any of several Islamic conferences."  It was reported that policy changes had been made within the last year that have resulted in fewer citizens being subjected to fingerprinting and would prevent the lengthy detentions experienced last year.

The judge indicated that he would rule on the request prior to the start of the conference on December 23.

I would hope that the basis for detention at the border is handled on a case by case basis, as opposed to a blanket policy requiring detention of anyone who appears to be Arabic, or anyone who attended the religious convention.  If the policy has not been changed, and the Department of Homeland Security is under orders to detain and question anyone who attended the conference, then the judge should issue the injunction, since the conduct in question amounts to religioius and ethnic profiling, both of which are unconstitutional.  It will be interesting to see what the judge's findings of fact are and how the judge rules.

Comments

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slickdpdx

I think you are right on. I'd be surprised if the judge came down differently. However, I would like to tweak your religion test. A religion is just another ideology. Some ideologies are relevant to these concerns: I don't think being a muslim is all that relevant, I think holding certain ideologies within the greater ideological tent of islam could be relevant, even if they can be characterized as 'religious'. Similarly membership in the ETA would be relevant, even if it is related to 'national origin' (Basque). For instance, if I know someone has a couer d'alene (sp) address I might keep an eye out for Nazi memorabilia and weapons, even though religion (Christian Identity Movement or whatever they call themselves) and nationality (German) are implicated.

Nicole Black

That was apparently the government's argument one year ago when they detained those who had attended this particular conference. There were allegedly "radical" ideas discussed by some of the speakers at the conference. There were also plenty of speakers who addressed more mundane topics as well.

Accordingly, I still contend that attendence of the convention alone should not be the basis for detention at the border. Detention is permissible only if the government can establish that the person that they seek to detain had a clear connection to "radical" Muslim thought, aside from merely attending the convention.

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