(CN) — The Justice Department asked a federal judge Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by three Muslim U.S. citizens over what they call "deeply personal and religiously intrusive questions that federal border officers ask" them when they return home after traveling abroad.
The American Civil Liberties Union first complained to the Department of Homeland Security about the practice of religious questioning in 2011. The department investigated the matter, but took no action.
One of the plaintiff's, Abdirahman Aden Kariye, an imam at a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, says he has been detained at least five times since 2017 upon returning home to the U.S., often for hours at a time, and questioned about his religious beliefs. According to the complaint, the questions included: "How many times a day do you pray?”; “Which mosque do you attend?”; and, “Are you Sunni or Shi’a?”
"CBP’s invasive questions regarding Imam Kariye’s religious beliefs, practices, and associations are insulting and humiliating to him," Kariye says in the complaint. "Due to this official condemnation of his faith, Imam Kariye feels marginalized and like an outsider when coming home to his own country."
On Thursday, ACLU attorney Ashley Gorski said Customs and Border Patrol agents were in effect "coercing [the] plaintiffs to profess their belief in their religion in the context of these border encounters." She added that they "face a clear penalty for being Muslim, and a burden on their rights."
She said that one of her clients, Hameem Shah, "will forego carrying a religious journal when traveling internationally to avoid scrutiny."
In its motion to dismiss the suit, the government said the Homeland Security's own policy forbids agents from profiling or targeting anyone based on religion, and said a "few alleged incidents" hardly amounts to a "policy or practice of targeting all Muslims for questioning at the border because of religion."
Leslie Cooper Vigen, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, told the court that many of the questions cited in the complaint — where the person had been traveling, what the purpose of the trip was — were routine border security questions asked to many travelers.
After about 30 minutes of oral arguments, U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter took the matter under submission.
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