Homeland Security Department Cementing Positive Relationship with Muslim Americans
By C. Naseer Ahmad

 


Daniel Sutherland with a group of Pakistani-American businessmen

Washington, DC: Homeland Security Department ’s (DHS) Office of Civil Liberties and Civil Rights seeks to cement a positive relationship with Muslim Americans. Through the training material distributed to its vast number of employees across the many agencies within the Department, DHS leadership under Secretary Michael Chertoff is working to preserve freedom, while protecting America. Recently, DHS engaged the Pakistani-American Community in a constructive dialog.
During a special meeting on October 17, 2005 with Pakistani-American business leaders in Washington, Daniel W. Sutherland, DHS Civil Rights Officer, outlined the initiatives taken by his Department to educate the public and train employees on America’s Frontline. He distributed pamphlets and posters providing guidance to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees for performing searches of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The initiative for arranging this meeting came from Pakistani-American leaders like Hanif Akhtar and Faisal Gill with Secretary Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at an Iftar party hosted by European Union Ambassador John Bruton recently. “We want to voice our concerns and hear what DHS has to say,” said Akhtar prior to the meeting.
During the meeting, Pakistani Americans representing a variety of professions – engineering, dentistry, medicine, insurance and information technology – expressed their concerns. Ifran Malik, a Maryland resident expressed the common concern of being stopped - or the fear of being singled out - frequently and the associated delays. Dr. Maqsood Chaudhry, a dentist based in Falls Church, Virginia, mentioned the concern of being questioned if a Pakistani American stopped in Saudi Arabia on the way back from Pakistan. “While performing Haj is a fundamental part of faith, many American Muslims of Pakistani origin visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umra – a religious rite – whenever an opportunity arises,” said Akhtar.
The Pakistani-American delegation requested DHS to find ways to reduce the level of questioning for Pakistani Americans who visit Saudi Arabia for legitimate religious reasons. Also participating in the discussion were Dr. Mohammad Akbar – a Northen Virginia physician, and Dr. Akbar Khawaja – a former World Bank employee.
One idea floated by Ifran Malik was to request the Saudi officials and Saudi Embassy to issue special color-coded visas for people who perform Umrah. In his opinion, such a visa might make it easier for the inspectors. “The inspectors are very polite,” said Malik. “But, since the problem is the time lost while waiting for some inspector who can read the Saudi issued visas written in Arabic,” he added.
The leaflets and the training material provided by DHS clearly discourage the invidious use of race or ethnicity as a criterion in conducting stops, searches and other law enforcement investigative procedures. “Show RESPECT, explain why you need to conduct search, offer private room for search if available and searches should be conducted by a screener of the same gender as the passenger being searched”. These are the points TSA wants its employees to keep in mind while searching not only Muslim Americans but also Sikh Americans.
Racial profiling is "wrong and we will end it in America." This quote from President George W. Bush’s February 27, 2001 address to a Joint Session of Congress sets the theme of a mandatory training course “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race for Law Enforcement Officers” for DHS employees. The computer-based training includes some tests to measure the employee’s understanding of the guidelines.
“It is notable that an agency that has a largely law enforcement and military mission has a civil libertarian in the senior leadership,” said Civil Rights Officer Sutherland in a speech on May 28, 2005 at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Silver Anniversary National Convention in Washington, DC.
The increased level of engagement between the government and the Arab-American and Muslim American communities is evident from the mandatory video training course “The First Three Seconds.” The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, MD as well as some other familiar sites and personalities are featured in this course, which was produced with the help of Muslim Americans and Arab Americans.
The commitment to “protecting American, while preserving freedom” is demonstrably taken seriously by DHS leadership. In a pro-active approach Officer Sutherland requested the Pakistani-American leaders to meet him again in 60 days to review the progress and requested help in communicating his message to the community.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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