The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. border officials. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three Muslim Americans who said they were subjected to intrusive questions about their religion by U.S. border officers, ABC News reports.
Abdirahman Aden Kariye, Mohamad Mouslli and Hameem Shah said that their constitutional rights were violated several times when they returned home from traveling internationally, according to ABC News.
The men allege that U.S. border officers at land crossings and international airports interrogated them about being Muslim, which mosque they attend and the frequency of their prayers.
Kariye, the son of refugees from Somalia, said he is often questioned about his faith when he returns to the United States. He said he can recall at least five times between 2017 and 2022 that he had to answer questions about his Muslim faith.
As a result, he lives with anxiety when he is “singled out” for questioning in private rooms for hours by U.S. border officers.
“I’ve been stopped many times, almost 90% of the time,” Kariye said, ABC News reports.
The constant scrutiny has caused Kariye to abandon wearing his traditional Muslim cap, called a kufi. He said he also stopped packing religious books and praying while waiting at the airport.
“I am proud to be a Muslim,” Kariye said, according to the Guardian. “But now whenever I travel back home to the United States, I’m anxious. I’m constantly worried about how I will be perceived, so much so that I try to avoid calling any attention to my faith.”
“Those experiences made me feel that I had to make myself less visible as a Muslim. … I feel like I don’t have the freedom to be a Muslim in America,” he said, ABC News reports. “When you ask these types of questions about my personal beliefs … you’re telling me that you have a suspicion about Muslims, that they are, you know, inherently a threat to national security.”
The three men from Minnesota, Texas and Arizona are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the line of questioning by the officers violated the men’s constitutional rights to freedom of religion and protection against unequal treatment based on the First Amendment, ABC News reports.
“Just as border officers may not single out Christian Americans to ask what denomination they are, which church they attend, and how regularly they pray, singling out Muslim Americans for similar questions is unconstitutional,” the lawsuit reads.
“By targeting plaintiffs for religious questioning merely because they are Muslim, defendants’ border officers stigmatize them for adhering to a particular faith and condemn their religion as subject to suspicion and distrust,” the court documents continue.
Hameem Shah, another plaintiff who lives in Plano, Texas, recalls returning from vacation in 2019 and being forced to undergo additional screening at the Los Angeles airport.
According to the lawsuit, officers read his journal without his permission and inquired if he traveled to the Middle East. They questioned Shah about his religious convictions and practices and searched his phone.
“I thought that being an American meant that I and others are free to practice any religion that we choose,” Shah said in a statement about the traumatic experience, according to the Guardian.
“Religious questioning by border officers is unconstitutional, and it’s past time for the government to be held to account,” Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said according to a press release.
“This invasive questioning serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose, and conveys the harmful and stigmatizing message that the U.S. government views Muslims as inherently suspicious,” she continued.
In 2010, the ACLU and other organizations also filed complaints to the DHS about the border questioning of Muslims returning home after traveling abroad.