Are banks targeting Arab American accounts for closure?

Mar 19, 2013

ACRL attorneys Nabih Ayad, right, and Rana Abbas, center.
ACRL attorneys Nabih Ayad, right, and Rana Abbas, center.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

An Arab American civil rights group says it’s hearing from a surge of people in southeast Michigan whose bank accounts were closed down without explanation.

The Arab American Civil Rights League says it’s received about a dozen complaints in the past month.

In each case, the bank notified the client that their account would be shut down. But they refused to provide an explanation.

The group says shutdowns appear to span a number of different banks, and the only common thread is that the clients are Arab Americans.

“While such practices are not unfamiliar to the Arab American community, the overwhelming number of complaints received by this office in recent months suggests that a concerted effort is now being made to close accounts based upon racial profiling,” Executive Director Rana Abbas wrote in a letter of complaint to the US Justice Department.

Abbas said it’s not clear what’s going on--but thinks it’s likely banks are responding to some kind of federal inquiry regarding suspicious accounts, possibly related to the issue of National Security Letters from the FBI.

“And it seems to be they’re taking a better safe than sorry approach [with Arab-Americans],” Abbas said. “But it’s profiling, essentially.

“I’d like to know, for example, whether or not someone who does not have an Arab-sounding name would deal with a similar situation.”

Nazih Jawad’s said his account at Huntington National Bank was closed after more than 15 years. He says he’s asked why, but no one will tell him.

“I always like to give the benefit of the doubt on my side,” Jawad said. “But they did not give us the benefit of their doubt, either. Because we weren’t told why they’re closing the accounts.”

In addition to its complaint to the Justice Department, the Arab American Civil Rights League is considering a class action lawsuit.

The group has also set up a hotline to find out if more people have been affected.