(RNS) American Muslims reentering the United States from abroad are alleging U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents inquired about their religious beliefs and practices—questions they say violate their constitutional rights.
Two civil liberties groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates, are now calling on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate.
The two groups represent five Muslims, all U.S. citizens, who allege border officers asked them questions like how often they attended mosque and prayed, how they felt about America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether they prefer Al-Jazeera or Fox News.
In one account detailed in the letter, border officers asked Lawrence Ho, a Muslim convert from New Jersey, why he converted to Islam, although he had never told them he was a convert.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol were not available for comment.
In a nine-page letter addressed to DHS Inspector General Richard L. Skinner, the two groups said they wanted to know whether the security agency or border patrol have specific policies on religious questioning, and whether those policies comply with the Constitution and federal laws.
The groups also asked Homeland Security to investigate whether border officers are asking other travelers these questions, and how border officers record the answers they receive from travelers.
The groups acknowledged that border officers need to verify identities and citizenships of people entering the U.S., but said questions about religion serve no security purpose and alienate Muslims as partners in the battle against terrorism.
“It appears that (Customs and Border Protection) policy not only fails to prohibit, but actually permits officers to target U.S. persons who are Muslim, or who are perceived to be Muslim, for questioning about protected beliefs, associations and activities,” the letter said.
In a 2009 report, the groups recorded 21 alleged cases of inappropriate border questioning.