Flying Imams’ Ship Comes In

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Walsh and James Walsh

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Imams in Minneapolis airport.

A settlement has been reached in the “Flying Imams” federal lawsuit that was filed by six Muslim men who claim they were falsely arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities three years ago because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

According to federal court records, the settlement was reached Monday and filed with the court today.

A New York attorney for the imams, Omar Mohammedi, this afternoon called the settlement “satisfactory to the plaintiffs.” Mohammedi added that money is involved, but he declined to elaborate.

Another attorney for the imams, Frederick Goetz of Minneapolis, said a few details remained to be resolved before the settlement is finalized.

One of the imams, Marwan Sadeddin of Phoenix, told the Associated Press that the settlement does not include an apology but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He said he couldn’t divulge the terms because both sides had agreed not to discuss them publicly. “It’s fine for all parties. It’s been solved. … There is no need for a trial,” Sadeddin said.

Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and is a defendant in the suit, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing the settlement.

“Law enforcement officials did what they believed was appropriate to ensure the safety of travelers based on the information available at the time,” said the MAC’s general counsel, Tom Anderson. “We will continue to be vigilant in maintaining the security of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the safety of travelers who use it.”

According to the statement by the MAC, “the commission’s liability insurance policy limits potential financial exposure in such cases to $50,000. The insurer has the right to assume control of the defense or settlement of claims and exercised that right in this case.”

Arizona-based U.S. Airways also is a defendant in the suit. The airline has yet to comment today.

CAIR, the Washington-based civil rights organization that took up the imams’ cause soon after they were removed from the plane, hailed the settlement.

“[This] is a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of ‘flying while Muslim’ in the post-9/11 era,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

The case sparked ongoing debate about the power of law enforcement to override personal rights in the name of security.

The imams were arrested in November 2006 while returning from the North American Conference of Imams on a jet bound for Phoenix. A passenger had passed a note to a flight attendant noting what he considered suspicious activity.

FBI Special Agent Michael Cannizzaro and airport police officers had argued that the arrest and removal of the imams was valid because there were reasons to be suspicious of a crime.

In July, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery ruled that the suit could move forward.

“The right not to be arrested in the absence of probable cause is clearly established and, based on the allegations … no reasonable officer could have believed that the arrest of the Plaintiffs was proper,” Montgomery ruled then.

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The Terminal

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

terminal Academy-Award winning actor Tom Hanks wowed audiences back in 2004 with his movie ‘The Terminal’. In the film he portrays Viktor Navorski, an eastern European immigrant coming to America so that he can fulfill a wish of his late father. But things take a turn for the worse as his homeland breaks out into a civil war and is no longer recognized by any government while he is en route. Not only is he stateless by the time he lands at New York’s JFK Airport, but he is also stuck in a political limbo which forces him to make the airport his new found home as he waits for the US government to either grant him entry or send him to another country to seek refuge as a political refugee. The film has innumerable funny moments as Hanks struggles to communicate his needs for money, food and clothing in his native language and broken English. It also has many heart rending ones as the audience is gripped by the plight of a stranger in a strange land.

For many Southeast Asian immigrants that descend upon the Middle East each year to work as laborers in some of the richest countries in the entire world, living in an airport terminal is often a reality that they have no choice but to accept as they embark upon a new phase in their lives to serve others as chauffeurs, office boys, janitors and housemaids.  In almost every Gulf State, there exists a sponsorship system, which states that no foreign immigrant can live independently within the country. All immigrants must have a citizen sponsor to vouch for them and co-sign on their residency documents. Herein is the problem . Out of the sponsorship laws has grown a new breed of criminals known as ‘visa traders’. They lure unsuspecting immigrants from agencies in their own homelands to the Gulf with the promise of a better life. The visa traders sell thousands of visas per years and it is a booming business.

Immigrants pay the traders thousands of dollars for their sponsorship that translates into a work visa. The moment the transaction begins and the cash changes hands, the immigrant is at the mercy of the sponsor. Many sponsors have developed the habit of leaving the new immigrants at the airport for days on end. They are either too busy or heartless to care. For this reason, many airports in the Gulf have developed special waiting areas specifically to cope with the influx of immigrants waiting to be picked up by their sponsors. The areas are well away from paying passengers view but are filled with human cargo simply left to wait. Men and women are mixed together often sprawled within close proximity as they try to sleep on the cold hard floors. Most immigrants only arrive with the clothes on their backs and not even a blanket to shield them from the central air conditioning that is pumped throughout the terminal around the clock. They have nowhere to shower and can only utilize the airport bathroom. As for nourishment, they are at the mercy of whatever the airport can provide.

maids It is common to see women crying and begging airport officials to simply go back home. Many of the immigrants do not know Arabic and yet the airport requires that they fill out processing paperwork in Arabic. While others make futile attempts to call the recruiting agencies that hired them or their individual sponsors. In most cases, the sponsors eventually do show up either several hours or several days after they were supposed to pick up their charges. The sponsors are not reprimanded by airport officials and suffer no ill consequences. Once again, the immigrants pay the price as they are not compensated for the wasted time and are usually forced straight to work without even a chance to rest after the long ordeal.

Many residents in the Gulf have long petitioned for an end to the sponsorship system. Nowhere have the voices been raised as loud as in the State of Kuwait, with even citizens publicly declaring shame that their own country would be a willing collaborator in the exploitation of others. This past month the Kuwaiti government has given hope to thousands by pushing for the annihilation of the sponsor system to curb visa trading and improve Kuwait’s standing on human rights in the global arena. The Kuwaiti government also promises to develop a new set of laws to deal with visa traders fiercely and decisively.  Other Gulf nations are expected to rethink their sponsorship systems as well so as to be seen as champions of human rights by the rest of the world and not exploiters bowing to the almighty dollar.

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