Florida ACLU Sues Homeland Security for Muslim-Ban Records From MIA

For all the debate, tears, and fury that President Trump's short-lived "Muslim ban" caused, the public actually knows surprisingly little about what happened at airports. The exact techniques Customs and Border Protection agents used before courts quashed the ban have remained secret. And since the ban was suspended in February, Muslims across the nation, including Miami's Muhammad Ali Jr., have been detained illegally anyway.

That's why the American Civil Liberties Union, which won the very first legal judgment against the ban in January, is fighting for the release of any government documents tied to the executive order. This past Wednesday, the ACLU filed a barrage of public-records lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including one demanding that DHS's Miami and Tampa field offices turn over all records they kept regarding the ban, including emails and text messages.

According to the lawsuit, the ACLU of Florida filed a public-records request with DHS February 2. After a volley of messages between Florida's DHS offices and the civil-liberties group, the ACLU claims in its suit that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has not yet said whether it will comply.

"In spite of court orders to the contrary, some CBP officials appear to be continuing to detain individuals — though the approach appears to differ by location," Florida ACLU's original public-records request reads. "Through this request, the ACLU aims to facilitate the public's indispensable role in checking the power of our public officials and to learn about the facts on the ground in Florida."

Representatives from the ACLU of Florida did not immediately return calls from New Times yesterday. Trump's executive order, which he reissued in March, was shot down again by two federal courts last month. Hawaii's Ninth Circuit Court will hear the Trump administration's appeal in May.

Interestingly, there have been no reports of high-profile detentions at Miami International Airport (MIA) since Trump took office. But at nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, two men made national headlines after reportedly being detained illegally. The first was a Trinidadian man married to a prominent ex-BuzzFeed journalist. The other was Ali Jr., the son of the world's most famous boxer.

But evidence shows that lower-profile people were possibly detained at MIA unbeknownst to the media and the public. Chris Mancini, Ali Jr.'s lawyer, told New Times that since Ali Jr. went public with his story, Mancini has received calls from "at least 50" Muslim people across the nation who said they'd been detained. Many told him they'd been asked questions about their religion, their friends or contacts in other countries, and "How they got their names."

According to a news release the ACLU sent out Wednesday, the civil-rights organization has filed 13 lawsuits for records in 14 cities. Those cities include San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Baltimore, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa, Tucson, and Portland, Oregon.

"CBP has a long history of ignoring its obligations under the federal Freedom of Information Act — a law that was enacted to ensure that Americans have timely access to information of pressing public concern," Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said in the news release. "The public has a right to know how federal immigration officials have handled the implementation of the Muslim bans, especially after multiple federal courts have blocked various aspects of these executive orders."

In the Miami records request, the Florida ACLU asked for a laundry list of records, including any guidance local airports received from DHS; the number of people "subjected to secondary screening, extending questioning, an
enforcement examination, or consideration for a waiver" due to the executive order; the total number of people who remain detained at MIA (if any); the number of people deported; and copies of any text messages or emails from any employees who discussed anything related to the Muslim ban.

"In the face of nationwide confusion about the scope and validity of the Executive Order, guidance from other relevant actors offered little clarity," the records request said. So the ACLU hopes a massive document dump will help the public learn the exact instructions CBP agents were given regarding detaining Muslim travelers.

But, so far, the ACLU says Homeland Security has not been particularly cooperative. According to the suit the ACLU filed in the U.S. Southern District of Florida, Border Protection offices in Miami and Tampa acknowledged in February they had received the records requests. But, the suit says, the government shuffled those requests among a few different departments in early March. The ACLU says it hasn't heard anything from CBP as of April 12, the day the complaint was filed.

According to federal law, the government must determine whether to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request within 20 business days. The ACLU claims Florida's border agents have violated that rule.

"As of the filing date of this Complaint, Defendants have not notified Plaintiff of a determination as to whether Defendants will comply with the Requests," the suit says.

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