By: Sumayya Saleh

On Sunday, April 10, the Islamic Society of New Tampa hosted a free legal clinic offered by CAIR Florida (CAIR-FL). At the clinic, CAIR-FL’s legal team gave a basic overview of the services the civil rights organizations offers while addressing the specific needs and interests of attendees.

According to CAIR-FL Civil Rights Director Thania Clevenger, bullying and discrimination in schools is one of the largest issues facing Florida’s Muslim-American community today. Unfortunately, though, students and families are not doing enough to report such incidents, making it more difficult for the organization to work to remedy the systemic problem. While CAIR-FL is working proactively to educate schools in the state on the needs of Muslim students, Clevenger stressed the importance of the Muslim community making CAIR-FL aware of bullying incidents so that the organization can have a more holistic understanding of the situation.

Civil Rights Staff Attorney Katherine Heffner discussed the issues of employment discrimination and requesting religious accommodations in the workplace. Her presentation was beneficial not only to employees who may not have been aware of the proper steps to take to address workplace discrimination, but also to small business owners in the community who need to ensure they don’t run afoul of the law.

The relatively small audience size allowed for a roundtable discussion between CAIR-FL staff and members of the community. Several attendees had questions about travel issues. After explaining what an individual’s rights are and are not when travelling into and within the United States, Clevenger asked community members to report any travel difficulties they have to CAIR-FL so that the legal team can file complaints with the appropriate federal agencies.

Majda Rahmanovic, events and outreach director, and Maryam Saleh, immigration legal assistant, also offered a few words of advice to Muslim women who may feel uncomfortable when passing through airport security. For example, they mentioned that Muslim women have the right to request that a pat down be conducted by a female officer or in a private room. 

During the last segment of the legal clinic, Immigration Attorney Floyd Huntz gave an overview of the immigration services that CAIR-FL offers. He also explained some of the challenges within the American immigration system, such as extreme delays in processing asylum and other applications. Huntz was proud to share that one of CAIR-FL’s clients recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen after a twelve-year delay and in response to a federal lawsuit the organization filed on his behalf.

Overall, the audience appeared to have benefited from the clinic. In fact, several community members followed up with CAIR-FL staff in private conversations to discuss specific issues they face.