ACLU Sues Department of Homeland Security to End Repeated Detention of U.S. Citizen Triggered by "Unfortunate Misidentification"

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
June 27, 2005 12:00 am

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CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked a federal district court to order the Department of Homeland Security to remedy policies that resulted in a U.S. citizen being detained in a nearly six-hour ordeal at the United States-Canada border as a result of being misidentified.

While in detention, Akif Rahman was subjected to unnecessary excessive force during a body search and shackled to a chair for approximately three hours while isolated from his wife and children.

“The situation was frightening and intimidating,” said Rahman, a native-born U.S. citizen and owner of a suburban Chicago software company. “I simply could not believe what was happening. I am an American citizen, simply re-entering my own country. Even after I presented multiple forms of valid identification as recommended by the Department of Homeland Security, I was handcuffed for approximately three hours and guarded like a felon for nearly six hours. The policies that caused this to happen to me or other innocent persons must be changed.”

Rahman described the May 8, 2005 detention at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel as the most harrowing and frightening example in an escalating series of detentions that began 15 months ago. Since March 2004, Rahman has been detained and questioned by DHS on five separate occasions as he re-entered the country after business or personal trips abroad. Four of the detentions lasted unnecessarily long periods of time (between two and six hours), longer than was reasonably required for determining Rahman’s identity and allowing him to proceed into the United States, the ACLU said.

“It simply was not necessary for DHS to detain the Rahman family for approximately six hours in order to determine Mr. Rahman’s identity,” said ACLU of Illinois Legal Director Harvey Grossman. “The DHS has stated that the detentions were the result of misidentification. Yet Mr. Rahman presented all the identification DHS said he should need to gain expeditious reentry. No law-abiding U.S. citizen should be treated this way. And, the treatment of Mrs. Rhaman and her children is inexplicable.”

Rahman’s name, the ACLU said, is as universally common as “John Smith.” There are thousands of persons in the United States with a name that is similar to, or sounds like, Rahman’s, and therefore would be identified for screening by the Border Patrol’s computer system.

After the first few detentions, Rahman contacted several governmental agencies and filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests in order to learn why he was being subjected to such harassment. In April 2005, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency of DHS wrote to Rahman indicating that his problem was “the direct result of an unfortunate misidentification scenario.” The official told Rahman that they had taken steps to correct government databases in order to address the situation and advised him to carry multiple forms of identification when traveling abroad. Subsequently Rahman always carried such identification — including a passport, driver’s license and Social Security card — when he was detained by DHS officers.

However, the events at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel on May 8, 2005 make clear that DHS did not correct the misidentification problem. On that day, the Rahman family was driving home from visiting relatives in Canada. At the tunnel, DHS officials ask them for identification. After reviewing the identification, the officer ordered Rahman to turn off his car and surrender the keys. He was escorted from the car by multiple agents, separated from his family and detained for approximately six hours, during which he was shackled to a chair for approximately three hours, and repeatedly kicked during a search of his person. His wife and children also were detained in a room for six hours with no access to food for the Rahman’s two young children.

The lawsuit filed today on Rahman’s behalf asks a federal court to order DHS to adopt polices that ensure expeditious reentry to the United States for U.S. citizens whose names are similar to those on government watch lists, and to institute adequate training and supervision to ensure that U.S. citizens are not unduly detained and harassed upon entering the United States.

“Treating United States citizens like Mr. Rahman in this fashion is intolerable, and will do nothing to make us safer,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Everett J. Cygal.

Mr. Cygal, Paula Ketcham, and Jason Lee of the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin LLP are assisting the ACLU of Illinois in this case.

The complaint in the case is online at /node/35440.

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