DETROIT -- The Department of Homeland Security has launched an investigation into whether Muslims are harassed, body searched, and detained by federal agents at the Detroit-Windsor border because of their appearance or religious background.
In a letter sent this week to a local Muslim group, the department's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said it has received information "concerning repeated handcuffing, brandishing of weapons, prolonged detentions, invasive and humiliating body searches at the border, and inappropriate questioning that pertains to religion and religious practices by" federal agents at the border with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The head of the civil rights office, Margo Schlanger, also said in the letter that the department "has received a number of complaints like yours." Schlanger talked about the investigation at a meeting Wednesday in Dearborn Heights, Mich., of federal law enforcement officials and Arab-Americans.
Muslims, Arab-Americans, South Asians and other minorities have expressed concerns in recent years about the way they're treated at border crossings. In March, the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations documented about 10 cases of Muslims who said they were harassed while crossing the border, including the imam of a large mosque in Canton, Mich.
Federal agents have "pointed firearms at them, detained and handcuffed them without predication of crimes or charges, and questioned them about their worship habits," said Dawud Walid, head of the council.
Walid said that some of the agents asked questions like: How many times a day do you pray? Do you pray your morning prayer in the mosque? Who else prays in your mosque?
Lena Masri, an attorney with the council, said she welcomes the federal investigation into what she called "these disturbing allegations of civil rights violations and ethnic and religious profiling."
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