A number of Seattle-area Muslims claim that discrimination and harassment from US authorities at Canadian border crossings has worsened in the past few years. They plan to protest this Sunday on the U.S. side of the Canadian border at Peace Arch State Park in Blaine (pictured). "We expect about 20 to 50 families," said Lynnwood resident Jeff Siddiqui, who is organizing the protest. He welcomes those he calls "naysayers." "We would like them to meet with us and talk with us if they have concerns," Siddiqui said. "People who don't like us are sincere people. When eyeballs lock, that is when we recognize the humanity in each other." "We're not going to be marching around yelling slogans. We're gathering in peaceful assembly as individuals and families -- Muslims, Jews and Christians -- to illustrate the fact that we are no different from anyone else." Statistics about whether complaints are on the rise were not immediately available from US Customs. Thomas Schreiber, a spokesman for the federal agency, says complaints are taken seriously and profiling is not tolerated. He also explains that customs officers don't follow any set line of questioning. "What we do is we take what's known intelligence out there," Shreiber explained, "We look at travel patterns, behavior responses, audio queuing and visual observations during the inspection process. But there is no set pattern." Border agents' roles have changed completely since 2001, Schreiber said. He was once a Customs officer focused on protecting U.S. commerce. Now, under the Department of Homeland Security, "the job has changed dramatically." "I would say that losing 3,000 Americans on American soil not only shocked the conscience of the country, but hugely redesigned our workplace," Schreiber said. Schreiber says all customs officers receive training about diversity and Arab cultures. But he suggests some people may stray from the guidelines. "We are in a people–based environment and you cannot engineer out human nature. You can only provide continual training, leadership and oversight. And that's what we strive to do." But Siddiqui says he gets an uneasy feeling at the US–Canada border, but just when he's crossing back home, into the US. Siddiqui moved to the US from Pakistan in the late 1970s. He's been a US citizen for 25 years. He's a real estate agent and a well–known representative of the local Muslim community. Siddiqui said, every couple weeks, another Muslim will tell him about their negative border experience and the :questions customs officers ask them. Questions include: What mosque do you go to? What do you pray there? Why are you Muslim? Do you intend to commit terrorist acts in America? "I mean, these are ridiculous questions," Siddiqui said. Siddiqui says the situation's been tense for Muslims at the border since 9/11. And he thinks it just keeps getting worse. On a recent trip home from Canada, Siddiqui says he was infuriated when a US Customs officer asked him: "You have anything in your van that you don't want me to find?" Sidfdiqui said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, like terrorists, or guns or grenades under the seat?" Siddiqui filed a complaint. He says he got a form–letter response.
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