Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

U.S. Customs & Border Protection Responds to Freedom of Information Act Request

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 29, 2010

After I saw an article last month in the Grand Forks Herald about the Somali refugees that Border Patrol detained I posted on the incident, here. U.S. Customs & Border Protection agents detained the Somali refugees, one of whom had just arrived in the U.S. a month earlier, for failure to carry original copies of their immigration documents on their person.

Last week I put in a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Customs & Border Protection for the incident report. According to the agency’s response they consider me a “commercial” entity! They also demand that I pay $91.60 for the 11 page report, but only if I first send them written permission from the refugees in question. Hmmm.

What’s interesting about this is that, as you can see from my request, I requested the information as an individual. Apparently U.S. Customs & Border Protection personnel took it upon themselves to do some internet sleuthing on me, and then charged me for the hour of their time that it took. Of course a watchdog group like ours that isn’t even a nonprofit would hardly qualify as a commercial entity. In addition, they claim it would take two employees TWO MORE HOURS of their time to press the print button and put the eleven page report in an envelope to me. Interesting.

Still unanswered is why a Grand Forks police officer asked Somali residents of Grand Forks to show their identifications merely for watching the police question a Grand Forks Somali woman resident, Mulki Hoosh, about a parking violation. The Grand Forks police officers then called in Border Patrol agents to detain four Somali residents who could not produce original copies of their  I-94 or green cards. According to Hoosh the police said that they asked the Somali residents for their identification because they had “come to the scene of an investigation”. Apparently the police consider anyone just standing and watching them as suspicious. It’s clear that this is a warning to all residents that police civil servants will not allow residents to observe them at work without retaliation. Yet if people can’t watch the police in action how will we know whether they are acting according to the law? I guess I could understand if there were just one or two officers and they asked people to disperse, but in this case the police are deeming residents suspicious merely for standing and watching.

Funny how that works. I’m sure other public servants would also love to have the power to get rid of observers.

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