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Feds Fail To Clean Up Faulty Terror List (April 20, 2007)

Some people of Arab descent and Muslims say they are repeatedly detained for hours as they cross the border from Canada to Michigan because a terrorist watch list is not accurate.
Homeland Security officials say they are aware that innocent travelers are often detained, but that little can be done in the short term to clean up the lists — and there is no official appeals process for those who feel wronged.
"You have to prepare yourself and go through all sort of psychological work to think: OK, what am I going to say when they handcuff me?" said Imam Steve Elturk, the leader of the Islamic Organization of North America, a mosque in Warren. He has crossed the border a few times in the past two years and was stopped all but once.
U.S. immigration and customs officials say they use watch lists to help them identify potential terrorists. They won't reveal the names on their lists, but more than a dozen people interviewed by The Detroit News say they were told at the border their names are the same or similar to those on the list used at the border in Detroit and Port Huron.
They say they are stopped repeatedly, usually handcuffed — often in front of their anxious families — and detained for up to five hours, without explanation.
When they are freed, although it has been established they are not suspected terrorists, they are informed that they are likely to be detained again. They say they are also told they can obtain no record of their detention, or information about why they were held.
Detentions likely to continue
Ibrahim Dabdoub, a plant manager for an auto supplier, was held so often he became acquainted with the border guards — but the familiarity bred no resolution.
"I even called ahead once to let them know I was coming," said Dabdoub, who used to live in Metro Detroit and now resides in Ohio. Dabdoub, who has Canadian and American citizenship, frequently crosses the border at Detroit, returning from visiting his family in Ontario. He says he has been detained 15 times, for up to two-and-a-half hours.
"It did not matter that I called," Dabdoub said. "When I got there, the border guy said, 'You're the guy who called, right? Sorry, you'll have to come " with me, again.'
Federal officials say 3,700 people have complained about the detentions since February. Groups like the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, the Arab American Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union say the problem is growing.
Federal officials say that while they are aware of the problem, the detentions are likely to continue, even if it means innocent people are sometimes held. Unlike the Transportation Security Administration, which uses a similar list to secure airports, there is no appeals process for those stopped at border crossings.
"We want to see the system work efficiently and effectively," said Daniel Sutherland, director of the office of civil rights and civil liberties for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "But this issue encapsulizes the complexity of the world in which we operate."
Sutherland said it has been difficult for customs and immigration officials to set up an appeals procedure like the Transportation Security Administration because information gathered about air travelers is already in place when they arrive at airports, while border officials begin the process when they first see travelers face-to-face.
The General Accountability Office reported last year that various watch lists promulgated by the FBI for several government agencies are filled with the names of people who are not terror suspects.
Bringing back bad memories
Civil rights advocates have been seeking a remedy for so long, they say they doubt federal officials will move anytime soon.
People want to be cooperative during border stops, said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "However, we need to make sure when people are facing these frequent stops, there must be something to bring that issue to a close."
Sharif Gindy, an engineer who lives in Macomb Township, has stopped trying to cross the border to do business in Canada with an automobile manufacturer because of an incident in June in which he was rousted from his automobile, frisked and handcuffed, whisked off by border guards and detained for five hours — while his wife remained at the crossing, wondering about his fate.
The detentions are especially ironic, Gindy says, because some of the high technology equipment for which he has obtained patents is used by the federal government on military aircraft and by NASA on the space shuttle.
Gindy, 60, says that as an American, he understands the need for security. But as an immigrant from Egypt, his treatment at the border conjures bad memories.
"I was taken out of the car, frisked, and then when he is frisking me, he is not asking me to put my hands on the car, he is kicking your feet apart and treating you like you have already committed a crime," Gindy said.
"Egypt is a great country, but the system of government started to choke liberties and that is the reason for young engineers, doctors or whatever to leave," he said. "To tell you the truth, I now feel like I have gone back 50 years. This reminds me of the martial laws in Egypt, when such rules are applicable to free citizens, good and bad alike, and there is secret evidence."
You can reach Gregg Krupa at (313) 222-2359 or gkrupa@detnews.com.