San Diego ACLU Concerned about FBI Surveillance of Somali Community

June 1, 2011

SAN DIEGO – Based on complaints that law enforcement engages in continual surveillance and invasive searches of Somalis in San Diego, the San Diego ACLU called on the FBI and San Diego Police Department to turn over all records related to investigations of the Somali community in San Diego. The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed Freedom of Information Act and California Public Records Act requests today on behalf of the Somali Woman’s Advocacy Group, an unincorporated association that seeks to protect and promote the interest of the San Diego Somali community.

Many members of the Somali community have recounted startlingly similar stories of systematic and unwarranted community-wide searches, beginning in 2008. The San Diego ACLU is concerned that the raids step beyond the bounds of national security necessity and constitutional guidelines and may indicate ethnic and religious profiling.

“Too often our law enforcement agencies operate in secret, using the ‘war on terrorism’ as a blank check to withhold information from the public,” said Sean Riordan, staff attorney at the San Diego ACLU. “It is a threat to the constitutional rights of free association, free religious practice, and equality when the government shields its actions from disclosure.”

A sampling of the incidents include:

  • a recent FBI raid in which agents conducted extensive home searches and seized personal documents and computers
  • agents asking residents which “tribe” they were from, while indicating they already knew the answer
  • Somali women publicly humiliated by being forced to sit outside without any head coverings and in their night clothes
  • dozens of FBI agents carrying automatic weapons into a home, terrorizing the small children who witnessed the raid

“We left Somalia because of government sponsored oppression and limited human rights,” said Ifrah Elmi, a member of the Somali Women’s Advocacy Group. “Our dream was to experience the full freedoms that America has inherited and historically shown to its new arrivals, and instead we endure unjustifiable government surveillance.”

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Read the ACLU FOIA request

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