The fingerprinting of Muslims returning from a religious conference in Canada has prompted calls for an investigation from an Islamic civil rights and advocacy group.
The Washington, D.C.,-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said the incident is a disturbing example of religious profiling that would have a chilling effect on the constitutional rights of American Muslims.
It happened earlier this month, when Muslims returning from an Islamic conference in Toronto were detained at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge until they agreed to be fingerprinted. Some said they were held for as long as six hours.
A spokeswoman for Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection said agents stopped anyone who said they attended the three-day convention, "Reviving the Islamic Spirit," based on information that such gatherings can be a means for terrorists to promote their cause.
A Customs and border spokeswoman, Kristie Clemens, said 34 people were stopped at the Lewiston bridge and four others were checked at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. They were held for an average of 2 1/2 hours and offered coffee and tea, she said.
Clemens acknowledged the inconvenience over the additional security measures but said with the threat of terrorism, there was no room for error.
"As the front-line border agency, it is our duty to verify the identity of individuals -- including U.S. citizens -- and one way of doing that is fingerprinting," Clemens said.
The Muslim group is demanding an investigation by homeland security officials.
"The image of a room full of American Muslim citizens apparently being held solely because of their faith and the fact that they attended an Islamic conference is one that should be disturbing to all Americans who value religious freedom," said Nihad Awad, the group's executive director.