American Muslims Fingerprinted
at Canadian Border
Washington, DC: A prominent national
Islamic civil rights and advocacy group has called for a
formal investi gation by the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) into an incident at the Canadian border in which American
Muslim citizens were apparently singled out for special
security checks based on their attendance at an Islamic
conference and then held until they agreed to be fingerprinted.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR) said the incident was a disturbing example of religious
profiling that would have a chilling effect on the constitutional
rights of American Muslims, particularly the right to the
free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, peaceful assembly,
and the right to be "secure in their persons…against
A number of the up to 40 Muslims who were singled out for
questioning and fingerprinting told CAIR that they were
returning from a weekend Islamic conference of more than
10,000 in Toronto when they were stopped by US Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) officials at the Lewiston Bridge
crossing near Niagara Falls, N.Y. (CBP is part of the Department
of Homeland Security. For conference details, see:
Several of the Muslim citizens held at the border for up
to six hours on Sunday night and Monday morning told CAIR
they objected strenuously to being fingerprinted, but were
informed by CBP representatives that "you have no rights"
and that they would be held until they agreed to be fingerprinting
procedure. One person was allegedly threatened with arrest
if she attempted to leave the detention area without being
CBP officials on the scene cited "orders from above"
to justify their actions. One CBP official reportedly agreed
with a Muslim traveler that "it would not look good"
if the news media saw the detention area filled exclusively
with Muslims in Islamic attire. CAIR is investigating similar
reports of demands for fingerprinting of conference attendees
at the border crossings.
When contacted by CAIR, a CBP spokesman in Washington, D.C.,
initially said fingerprinting of American citizens would
be a "violation of policy." He later said fingerprinting
would be allowed "if there was a law enforcement reason
for doing so," but would not state what that reason
Media reports on the incident quote CBP officials as saying
some of the Muslim citizens who were fingerprinted had names
similar to those on watch lists. But that claim does not
explain why everyone in the group of conference attendees,
even Muslim converts, was fingerprinted.
Local DHS officials now say they will hold a community meeting
next week to concerns of those who were forced to be fingerprinted.
"The image of a room full of American Muslim citizens
apparently being held solely because of their faith and
the fact that they attended an Islamic conference is one
that should be disturbing to all Americans who value religious
freedom," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.
"This incident must be investigated to determine what
the policy on fingerprinting Muslim citizens is and who
is behind it."
Awad also urged anyone treated in a similar manner to contact
CAIR's Civil Rights Department by calling 202-488-8787 or