U.S. Citizen Asks Federal Court to Insure Safe Passage For His Family Back from Canada

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
December 21, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU of Illinois Represents Chicago Businessman in Lawsuit Over Harassment at the Border

CHICAGO – The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked a federal judge to help insure a safe, uneventful trip across the U.S.-Canadian border for a suburban Chicago father and U.S. citizen when he, his wife and young children travel next week.

The emergency motion filed by the ACLU of Illinois in federal district court today on behalf of Akif Rahman, the owner of a Chicago company software company, followed an incident on Sunday evening in which agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol detained Rahman for at least one hour at the Toronto Airport, and subjected him to terrorist screening procedures that caused him to miss a scheduled flight.

“For more than a year, our family has thought that we could travel safely abroad without being harassed and threatened by Customs officials,” Rahman said at a news conference in Chicago today. “The idea that my children would have to watch an overzealous, armed guard lead me away is painful for me and for my wife. We are asking the judge to insure that our trip back is uneventful and safe.”

As a result of the screening, the ACLU said, Rahman was delayed returning to Chicago by at least 90 minutes. He drove his family to Canada earlier in the week and plans to return to drive the family – including his wife and children (ages 2 and 5) – back across the border on December 27. In legal papers, the ACLU said Rahman seeks to insure that the return trip will be uneventful and that his young children will not be forced to watch him be led away by armed guards – an unfortunate event that occurred in May 2005.

“The Rahmans and millions of other Muslims across the nation are preparing to celebrate Eid Adha and the U.S. government should be able to ensure that a family can safely re-enter our country without being led off by armed guards,” said Harvey Grossman of the ACLU of Illinois. “The fault lies in the chaotic operations of the Terrorist Screening Center and inappropriate responses by the Customs and Border Protection. The Rahmans’ young children should not have to pay a terrible price for this ineptness.”

In June 2005, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on Rahman’s behalf asking the federal government to implement changes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) and the policies of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure that he no longer was subjected to humiliating and unnecessary detentions and harassment by federal officials when re-entering the United States.

Since March 2004, Rahman has been detained and questioned by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials 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 (anywhere from two to six hours), longer than was reasonably required for determining his identity and allowing him to proceed into the United States. On one occasion, 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.

Rahman is representative of thousands of persons, according to the ACLU of Illinois, who each year are stopped, questioned, abused and harassed at points of entry to the country – action that results from flaws in the federal government’s Terrorism Screening Center (TSC).

According to a U.S. Department of Justice report, the TSC administers a database with more than 200,000 names, persons who are claimed by the government to have “any degree of terrorism nexus.” The report identifies the two major flaws in the system, which is the focus of the lawsuit. First, the process for classifying these individuals is flawed, resulting in many individuals being “over-classified,” considered dangerous when they pose no real threat to our nation. Second, mistakes in the database operated by the TSC cause many individuals to be “misidentified,” and subject to terrorist screening for no reason whatsoever. As a result of these two problems, the plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit collectively have been stopped and questioned on more than 30 occasions, despite the fact that they are law-abiding citizens, always cleared for re-entry to the U.S. after these recurring and punitive detentions.

Roger Pascall, Everett Cygal, Paula Ketcham, and Joshua Lee of the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin LLP are assisting the ACLU of Illinois in this case, along with Junaid M. Afeef of Hoffman Estates, Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts, Kary Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU Fund of Michigan, Noel Saleh of Detroit and Aaron H. Caplan of the ACLU of Washington in Seattle.

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