By: Sr. Maryam Saleh

On Thursday, May 21, 2015, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) R. Gil Kerlikowske visited Masjid Daarus Salaam, leading the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (DHS CRCL) Central Florida Quarterly Community Engagement Roundtable. During the two-hour meeting, community members were able to ask Kerlikowske and other DHS officials about issues facing the Muslim-American and immigrant communities.

The Roundtable was co-hosted by the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-FL) and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, each of which was well represented at the event. The federal government was represented by a number of members of CBP, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Imam Junaid Khan of Masjid Daarus Salaam and other local community members, including a representative of the Islamic Community of Tampa, were present as well.

The discussion kicked off with a series of questions pertaining to immigrants’ rights: members of the audience posed difficult questions regarding the conditions faced by asylum-seeking children in Texas near the U.S.-Mexican border; the lack of trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement; warrantless searches near the U.S. border, which some individuals perceive to be a violation of Fourth Amendment rights; and the rising number of deportations under the Obama administration.

Commissioner Kerlikowske and DHS CRCL representative Kareem Shora took the lead in answering questions, but other federal employees, including CBP and USCIS officers, helped address community members’ concerns as well.

Eventually, the focus of the discussion shifted to issues impacting the Muslim-American community in particular. One community member asked about methods of countering violent extremism in our communities, which has become more difficult with the ubiquity of social media; in response, Shora said that DHS CRCL is able to provide training to the community on cyber safety and other relevant concerns.

Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR-FL, asked about measures being taken to improve the experiences of Muslims traveling into and out of the United States. Commissioner Kerlikowske acknowledged that, while CBP officers are not without fault, the agency has implemented cultural sensitivity training in recent years and takes the behavior of its officers quite seriously.

At the end of the two-hour session, community members had the opportunity to speak to and network with the representatives of the various government agencies as they enjoyed light refreshments provided by Masjid Daarus Salaam