Legal Advocacy Groups Sue DHS for Info on Treatment of Muslims at Border Stops, Airports

By Sameer Rao May 04, 2017

Nearly two months after they first filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, two legal advocacy groups sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in federal court this week for information on the treatment of Muslims—and those perceived to be Muslims—at border stops and airports.

Muslim Advocates and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center filed two lawsuits with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding DHS submit records about Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents’ possible racial profiling of travelers. The first lawsuit, filed Tuesday (May 2), relates to officials’ search and seizure of individuals’ electronic devices, while yesterday’s (May 3) filing deals with the revocation of select passengers’ Trusted Traveler status, which lets them access expedited security screens at airports.

The organizations initially filed FOIA requests for this information in early March, after President Donald Trump issued the second version of his "Muslim ban," which sought to prevent people from six Muslim-majority countries—Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Syria—from visiting the United States for 90 days. Federal Judges in Hawaii and Maryland prevented its implementation, but DHS later mandated that people flying into the United States from 10 airports in eight other Muslim-majority countries—Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates—much check all electronic devices larger than a phone with their luggage.

The March FOIA requests specifically asked for information on how DHS and CBP agents evaluated whose devices to search and whose Trusted Traveler status to revoke. They included all data from the first Muslim ban‘s implementation. Both lawsuits say DHS acknowledged receipt of the FOIA requests, but missed the April 24 deadline to provide the information. The complaints also acknowledge widespread reports that federal officials selectively profiled Muslims and others thought to be Muslim, including U.S. citizens. 

"Airports and borders are not Constitution-free zones, and no one should be targeted or profiled simply because of what they look like or assumptions by federal officials about their religious practice," says Muslim Advocates’ legal director Johnathan Smith in a statement. "DHS can’t continue to stonewall reasonable inquiries into their actions."

DHS, which oversees CBP, has not yet publicly responded to these lawsuits.