We are elated to announce that the City Ordinance banning a Muslim (or other) Registry in the City of Chicago has just passed unanimously by the City Council Committee on Human Relations!
The Prohibition on Participation in Registry Programs Ordinance, for which our Deputy Director & Counsel Sufyan Sohel testified in favor of just this morning (watch/read his full testimony below), prohibits using city resources on a federal registry program and disclosing individuals’ information for any federal tracking registry based on race, gender, religion, ancestry, etc, among other things.
We are very proud of our attorney Maaria Mozaffar and her intern Laura Saltzman for working closely with the City of Chicago to develop this vital ordinance as part of CAIR-Chicago’s commitment for protecting the civil rights of Muslims and other minority groups in Chicago. This ordinance is an important, pro-active step in challenging anti-Muslim racism from the federal level and protecting the rights, identities, and safety of all Chicago residents!
As we push to pass this ordinance in City Council on June 28, please continue to support our work to make this possible!
“Good Morning. Chair Dowell and Members of the Committee on Human Relations, thank you for holding this hearing today and having us attend to provide testimony in support of the Prohibition on Participation in Registry Programs. My name is Sufyan Sohel and I serve as the Deputy Director & Council of the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR-Chicago. CAIR-Chicago is a nonprofit whose job is to protect the civil rights of Muslim Americans. We perform our work through the media, litigation, outreach and advocacy. Through 2016, we averaged approximately 400 reported incidents to our office of discrimination annually. At any given point, our legal department averages about 200 open cases ranging from prisoner rights issues to employment discrimination, school bullying, law enforcement profiling and disparate interaction, and most recently, airport and airline related incidents and an increase in travelers being detained or not allowed into the US. This year, our mission has expanded as we find it prudent and our responsibility to continue fighting not only on behalf of the Muslim community but on behalf of all those facing injustice, hate, and discrimination in our communities.
Hate, in all its forms, is on the rise. According to the statistics released last fall by the FBI, 2015 saw a 6.8% increase from 2014 in overall hate crimes. There was a 67% reported increase against Muslims alongside increases against members of the Jewish, Black and LGBTQ community. In the 1 month after the election there were 1094 bias related incidents as collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center of which the largest incidents were targeted towards immigrants (315) and members the black (221), Muslim (112) & LGBTQ (109) communities.
To date, in 2017, our office has received almost 400 reported incidents of discrimination; if we continue at this rate we are on path to double our intakes from 2016. We have had families removed from airplanes, an increase in religious accommodations being denied in the workplace, issues with various law enforcement agencies, amongst other types of cases. Just last week, we had a group of young ladies breaking their Ramadan fast at a restaurant in the Southwest Suburbs when they were on the receiving end of some extremely hateful rhetoric from one of the other restaurant patrons. A few weeks ago, I received a voicemail at my office which stated, and I quote “Hey this is America calling. You are not welcome here. We will kill you. You are not welcome here. Get out” Unfortunately, this is not unusual for our office or for Muslims living in the Chicagoland area.
When the Presidents signed the executive order this past January, over 1000 attorneys signed up to volunteer their services to assist travelers and their families in need. Our office created an online portal so travelers could enter their travel plans into our database and that attorneys on the ground could keep an eye out to facilitate, if need be, entry into our city. Muslims and travelers from those 7 listed countries on the travel ban were not the only ones affected. A Mexican father who came to visit his US Citizen family was not allowed into the country. A Nigerian woman who came to bury her aunt was detained for several hours before she was sent back home. We have had more than 500 travelers, of all faiths, religions, and immigration status contact our office and register on the database, afraid to travel for fear of not being allowed back into their country.
The Muslim community faces a unique challenge. Unlike most other communities, Muslims must constantly work to reclaim our faith and identity from groups who wrongly and very unIslamically have hijacked and manipulated Islam and its teachings in carrying out their dastardly deeds. No other group is asked so continuously to denounce such acts. At the same time, the increased anti-Muslim sentiment, the huge mistrust between law enforcement and the community, and the ever increasing rise in incidents of hate targeted at Muslims has made many in my community feel unwelcome in the US, to many, the only country they have ever called home.
The anti Muslim/anti immigrant rhetoric that we heard through the election cycle last year has only expanded and engulfed our society. Law week, BuzzFeed News reported that they reviewed more than 50 reports of school bullying since the election and found that kids nationwide are using Trump’s words to taunt their classmates. If the president can say those things, why can’t they? Statements like “you are going to be deported, Now that Trump won, you’re going to have to go back to Africa, where you belong, build the wall and the like are commonplace in our schools.
This past weekend, anti-Sharia marches and rallies were held in over two dozen cities in about 20 states around the country, including Chicago. Sharia, to be clear, is a legal or philosophical code derived from Islamic scripture and meant to guide the behavior of observant Muslims, not unlike guidelines found in Jewish and Christian customs. The rallies were organized by the conservative group ACT for America which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America, claiming 280,000 members in over 1000 chapters. It is important to point out that in 2015 there were 34 anti-Muslim groups as identified by the SPLC which almost tripled to 104 in 2016.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of one of the darkest moments in American history – when President Roosevelt signed an executive order that sent over 100,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. Last November, Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL and spokesman for the pro-Trump Great American PAC, cited, during an interview on Fox the United Sates’ use of internment camps for Japanese-American during WWII as “precedent” for a federal registry of Muslim immigrants. Last week, Fox news contributor and former U.K. Independent Party leader Nigel Farage floated internment camps for Muslims, saying, that “unless we see the government getting tough, you will see public calls for those 3,000 [terror watch list suspects] to be arrested.” Farage added, “if there is not action, then the calls for internment will grow”. While Fox apologized for those comments, the fact that there were stated adds fear to a community who is already afraid.
Muslim registries are not a new phenomenon in the United States. In 2002, the US began the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or NSEERS which registered over 135,000 individuals from 25 Muslim majority countries and North Korea. Over 10,000 were deported. Not one was convicted in any terrorism related charges. Instead, NSEERS only marginalized members of a community who are already struggling in feeling welcome in the United States. , Government registry programs only result in isolation and divisiveness in our communities.
“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” This inscription by Poet Emma Lazarus is found on the Statue of Liberty, a monument that aims to represent the ideals of America – freedom, safety, and opportunity Unfortunately, the reality of the United States is that we have routinely discriminated against every group that has sought to make America home: beginning with our treatments of the Native Americans and the forced migration of African slaves, Americans have discriminated against the Chinese, the Germans, the Irish, the Japanese, the Jews, Mexicans, and now the Muslims. Instead of working on integration and inclusion, we, collectively, have not learned from the past and this must change.
I am honored to have worked with the Mayor’s staff and alongside other government bodies and community based organizations in launching the One Chicago campaign. Chicago has a long history of inequalities and injustice, specifically targeting minority, immigrant, and low income populations. One Chicago shows the city’s commitment to work together to continue building a more integrated and more welcoming city for all who live in it. We applaud the Mayor and the City for introducing this ordinance, the Prohibition on Participation in Registry Programs. This ordinance is one of many I hope that come out of the City Council to address the reality so many of our communities’ face and I urge you to support it so that our communities can know that Chicago stands behind each resident regardless of their faith, socio-economic & immigration status, sexual orientation or the countless other descriptive identifiers that are used to divide us. Our communities must be able to conduct their daily lives and have access to government and societal services without fear their information will be used in a registry program.
I am humbled by our partners and allies who provided testimony today – all who work tirelessly in building a city that is safe and inclusive for all that call it home. Each of us has pledged to make a stand against discriminatory federal policies and hateful rhetoric that affect all communities and I hope you continue to stand by us in protecting our most marginalized populations.”