Civil Rights Issues Facing Arab Americans in Michigan

Chapter 2

Statements of Elected Officials

Written Statement of Carl Levin, United States Senator for Michigan

I am glad the United States Commission on Civil Rights is examining the civil rights issues facing Arab Americans. I am pleased the Commission chose Michigan as the focus of their study. Although Arab Americans live in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, many call Michigan home.

I am very concerned about a number of issues that disproportionately affect the Arab American and Muslim communities. I will focus on but two here: the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings and passenger profiling.

John F. Kennedy once said, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” The use of secret information in immigration proceedings, which the defendant can never see and cannot test in court, threatens to violate basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness, and therefore threatens the rights of every American.

The Attorney General and I have had several conversations about the Department of Justice’s use of secret evidence. I have expressed my concern about the Department of Justice’s and Immigration and Naturalization Service’s continued use of secret evidence—primarily against Arab and Muslim immigrants—and the use of such evidence without virtually any limiting regulations.

At my request, the Attorney General came to Michigan to hear concerns about secret evidence from those who know its effects first-hand. At one of those meetings, I called on the Attorney General to suspend the Department’s use of secret evidence until a new policy had been developed to limit its use to the most serious cases, namely those in which the alien has committed criminal activity that threatens national security. I was pleased when the Attorney General herself expressed concern over the use of secret evidence, and promised to issue regulations limiting its use. That assurance was given in May of 1999 but the regulations have still not been issued, which is terribly disappointing.

I have also been working with the Departments of Justice and Transportation on the issue of passenger profiling. Although passenger screening is an important component of airport safety, I am concerned that passengers of Arab descent are singled out for screening far more than other passengers. I have heard countless accounts from Arab American and Muslim passengers that traveling by air routinely involves humiliating and intrusive searches. Again, the Attorney General discussed this issue when she came to Michigan, and I was pleased that she promised to work with Arab American leaders in our state to ensure that airport searches and passenger screening programs are implemented in a nondiscriminatory manner.

I applaud the United States Commission on Civil Rights for taking on these and other similar issues for review. I look forward to working with the Commission on the many civil rights issues facing Arab Americans and acting to ensure that all people are given the fair treatment and respect they deserve.[1]

Statement on behalf of Spencer Abraham, United States Senator for Michigan

I am very pleased that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has convened a hearing on civil rights issues confronting the Arab American community. The choice of venue is most appropriate as Michigan is home to the largest number of Arab Americans in the United States.

There are two pressing issues that I have been deeply concerned about. One is the use of classified or secret evidence in immigration proceedings, and the second is the use of passenger profiling. Both of these policies have been promoted by the Clinton administration as necessary tools of law enforcement.

Although we all agree that we must do all we can to eradicate crime, we must also abide by our Constitution and respect the civil rights of various communities in the United States. In the United States Senate, I have taken the lead on the issue of secret evidence, an issue which inordinately affects members of the Arab American community and those who immigrate to this country from the Middle East.

In 1996 I and my Senate colleagues successfully amended the secret evidence provision in the 1996 antiterrorism law. Because of the constitutional and civil rights concerns, this provision passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. Unfortunately, however, representatives of the administration insisted on deleting this provision and reinserted the secret evidence provisions in the law. I have expressed my concerns to the Attorney General and I am pleased to report she has offered to work closely with me to rectify this provision in the law.

I have also been working on the issue of airport passenger profiling. It is very clear to me that an inordinate percentage of Arab Americans are being stopped, questioned, and searched at numerous domestic and international airports. I have expressed my concerns both to the airlines who conducted the pilot program on profiling and the administration. Again, my discussions with the Attorney General have been quite positive. She has agreed to review the hundreds of complaints by Arab Americans that are documented at the national offices of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

It is my sincere hope that the administration and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights seriously address these problems. It is necessary not only to take a good hard look at the policies that are presently in place, but to address the practical effects of these policies and do what we can to present workable solutions.[2]

Statement on behalf of Michael A. Guido, Mayor, City of Dearborn, Michigan

The mayor is pleased to provide comments to the U.S. Commission on civil rights issues facing Arab Americans, especially when Dearborn is such a diverse community that includes a large and growing Arab American population. In Dearborn over 70 different nationalities call the city home. The mayor continues to be a leader to make Dearborn a truly global community.

Good public service is the mayor’s formula for good government. He has appointed many Arab Americans to key positions and as commissioners. His appointments to the City Planning, Telecommunication Boards of Appeals, Zoning Commission, Community Policing Board, Building Board of Appeals, and Economic Downtown Development Authorities are examples of the mayor’s commitment to appointing diverse and representative board members and commissioners. The mayor has six members on his personal staff; two are Arab Americans.

The mayor’s leadership on diversity issues is well known. The mayor has partnered with the League of Women Voters to become the principal funding source for our community’s Wide Diversity Awareness Program. He has ordered a Diversity Awareness Program for city employees so that the city can continue to find better ways to service its citizens. His generosity in support of public events is well known by groups such as ACCESS, which recently received a contribution of $5,000 for a classroom in their new building. The mayor has contributed annually to the Lebanese American Heritage Club Scholarship Program, and the last two recipients of the $30,000 Mayor Scholarship to the Detroit College of Business have been Arab American students.

The city of Dearborn annually holds the largest Arab American festival in North America, and the mayor personally works with the festival organizers to provide city services to make the event a success. He also uses his influence with an economic development corporation in securing a $10,000 annual grant for this festival. The record will show the mayor consistently voting for this.

Mayor Guido believes actions speak louder than words and that his actions prove that he is both committed and involved in every aspect of the entire city, including the Arab American community. He must provide the best public service possible for all citizens at the most reasonable cost, and the mayor understands that not everyone will agree with his policies. When the public is dissatisfied, elected leaders will be turned out of office. In the 1997 mayoral election, Mayor Guido received 87 percent of the vote; obviously, he has the support of the vast majority of the citizens.

The mayor feels strongly about his community and his work. He is passionate about democracy and protecting the values of family and community that has made Dearborn and this country the best in the world. The mayor knows this because he is first-generation American. Both of his parents were foreign born. And to use his phrase, “There’s no greater honor than to be the mayor of your home town.”[3]

Statement on behalf of Edward McNamara, Wayne County Executive Office

Wayne County owns Metropolitan Airport in the Detroit area. The Wayne County Executive Office has received several complaints from the Arab American community regarding profiling and discriminatory treatment of Arab individuals at Metropolitan Airport by various agencies.

Upon receiving the complaints, the Wayne County Executive Office organized a meeting with federal officials to discuss the matter privately in order to find a solution. Federal officials assured the Wayne County Executive Office that the profiling policy had undergone a thorough review from the U.S. Department of Justice, which had found nothing in the policy itself that is discriminatory based upon gender, race, or place of origin. However, federal officials acknowledged that complaints had been received from various Arab American agencies, and the agencies were investigating the allegations.

The Wayne County Executive Office followed the meeting with a hearing, held on November 30, 1998. Officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs, and airline officials, as well as several members of Congress, listened to complaints from the community. More than 20 people testified to rude treatment and discriminatory treatment directed toward individuals who appeared to be of Arab or of Muslim backgrounds.

However, the community was not able to identify the exact discriminatory agent. Was it an airline agent? Was it a county official? Was it a federal agent? Who? So Mr. McNamara directed this office to meet with airline management officials and federal officials to discuss what Wayne County is doing to change the attitude of workers who encounter travelers. This office stated, unequivocally, that at Metropolitan Airport there would be no tolerance whatsoever of any discriminatory practices and if there is such a thing this office will take immediate action.

In addition to these directives, this office invited 10 members from the Arab American community to do a covert operation. Tickets were issued to these individuals and their treatment was observed.

This office learned the selection process is, in itself, discriminatory because one has to select the individual and ask them more questions. Moreover, the policy varies from airline to airline and from individual to individual. The second thing learned is that the majority of the people who do execute the policy are not trained to execute the policy, and individuals who are selected appear to be disproportionately individuals of dark skin and of Middle Eastern background.

This office continues to work with the Arab American community to resolve this issue. There will be more meetings on this topic and practices at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. This office is committed to ensure that customer service, not only for the Arab American community, but for everyone that comes to the airport is one of respect and dignity.[4]

[1] Letter to Constance Davis, director of the Midwestern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, from Senator Carl Levin, July 6, 2000.

[2] Statement on behalf of Senator Spencer Abraham by Nina DeLorenzo to the Michigan Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum on “Civil Rights Issues Facing Arab Americans in Michigan,” Dearborn, MI, Sept. 27, 1999, transcript (hereafter cited as Transcript).

[3] Statement on behalf of Mayor Michael A. Guido by Yussef Beydoun, Transcript.

[4] Statement on behalf of Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara by Terri Ahwal, Transcript.