CHICAGO -- A U.S.-born Muslim who claimed he had been unjustly detained and questioned several times at customs checkpoints sued the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday.
In the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Akifur Rahman of Wheaton, Illinois, said customs agents held him for several hours on four occasions since March 2004 while he was trying to re-enter the country from trips abroad, even though he had proper identification.
"I find myself afraid of what may happen every time I return from a trip outside the United States and I will not stand by as things that happen to me get worse," Rahman read from a prepared statement. "This lawsuit seems to be the only way to resolve this situation and insure that this degrading process is not repeated."
According to his lawsuit, Rahman received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security in April stating his problems stemmed from an "unfortunate misidentification scenario" in which his name could be a near match of someone on a government watch list.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and "the adoption of adequate policies to ensure the reasonably expeditious re-entry" of U.S. citizens whose names are similar or identical to those on government watch lists.
The complaint names as defendants several Homeland Security officials and employees, including Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Secretary Tom Ridge.
Cherise Miles, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit says customs agents at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in May detained Rahman, his wife and two small children for six hours as they were returning from a family visit to Canada.
Rahman, a native of Springfield, Illinois, claims he was handcuffed, separated from his family and questioned about his "knowledge of terrorism," including whether he knew any of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
The lawsuit also claims Rahman was held and questioned for at least two hours at Los Angeles International Airport, O'Hare International Airport and Montreal Airport.
American Civil Liberties Union officials joined Rahman in announcing the lawsuit at a news conference in Chicago.
ACLU attorneys are representing Rahman and seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.