Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the US Senate. (AP Photo)
ATLANTA: US Customs and Border Protection has announced the establishment of a Detroit-based community relations position within the Department of Homeland Security that will be tasked with building trust and working with Arab and Muslim communities in the state of Michigan.
Those communities have long complained of violations of their civil rights and liberties via racial profiling, Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism by federal agencies, especially at points of entry into the US by CBP agents.
Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, who is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the US Senate, had convened a meeting between leaders of the Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas to address their concerns.
The senator released a statement to Arab News saying the new position is in response to that meeting.
An aide of his told Arab News: “This is a new position, so we don’t have all the specifics besides the fact that the person will report to the DHS / CBP about the communities’ concerns, and that the position is in response to concerns the secretary heard during the meeting Sen. Peters hosted in Dearborn.”
Peters said in the statement: “Community leaders have long raised serious concerns about experiences with the travel screening process, and this new role will be a vital link between these communities and CBP officials to help address these concerns and other important civil rights issues.”
He added: “This is a key step to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security and its component agencies are effectively serving all of our communities.”
Abdullah Hammoud, mayor of the city of Dearborn who participated in discussions with Peters and the DHS leadership, released a statement to Arab News in which he said: “It’s no secret that over the last two decades, DHS programs and tactics have effectively criminalized Arab and Muslim identity.
“I was encouraged to hear Secretary Mayorkas acknowledge the failure of these approaches, and the importance of engaging our community with interest rather than suspicion.
“This position is a positive first step to establishing a medium for accountability so that members of the community no longer feel there is an asterisk next to their place in this nation.”
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the nation’s oldest Arab-American civil rights organization, commended the efforts of the community in Michigan.
Chris Habiby, ADC’s legislative and policy coordinator, told Arab News: “I’m glad to see that Secretary Mayorkas actually listened to community members when he visited Dearborn.
“Having been present at the meeting, it was clear that Customs and Border Protection has an overwhelming issue with how they treat Arab Americans.
“This new community relations position is a positive step towards building trust between our community and the government.”
The US House Judiciary Committee held a groundbreaking hearing last month about racism and discrimination against Muslim, Arab and South Asian Americans.
Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the US. The census estimates the number of Arab Americans in the state at around 300,000, and about 3.7 million nationwide.