On December 6, 2022, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) published a statement welcoming a joint US House and Senate letter signed by 22 largely Democratic lawmakers that accused US banks of preliminary shutting out Iranian and Muslim Americans due to their “real or perceived” connection with sanctioned entities. According to a statement by CAIR:
CAIR thanks Representative Ilhan Omar, Senator Elizabeth Warren and the 20 other congressional lawmakers who joined together in urging the Biden Administration and heads of all U.S. banking regulators to improve banking access for immigrant communities and communities of color, including Iranian and Muslim Americans.
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In their letter, the Representatives accused US banks of “shutting out entire classes of individuals and organizations” due to high-cost for compliance and high-risk more generally, arguing that “Many Muslim and Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian Americans, simply because of their connections – real or perceived – have been systematically cut off from financial services.” The signatories also urged regulators to update Congress on their work to modernize financial crimes compliance obligations and sanction regimes to protect equitable banking access for marginalized communities and charitable organizations. According to the letter:
Banks’ interpretation of and reaction to U.S. sanctions can play an inhibiting role in banking access for individuals and organizations affiliated with certain sanctioned and conflict-impacted countries.
In their statement, CAIR called the “wrongful targeting” and closing of bank accounts of Muslim Americans a “harmful and discriminatory practice in the U.S. financial sector that needs to immediately stop.” CAIR has a history of campaigning against what it sees as discrimination in compliance and anti-money laundering measures of US banks, in 2019 even launching a #BankingWhileMuslim social media campaign. In 2014, an attorney for CAIR asked the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to look into the closure of an account by an Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) representative and determine whether race had played a role in the decision.
According to reporting by the Los Angeles Times, US banks are eliminating as much risk as possible due to increasing scrutiny from regulators and are being overly cautious over lacking clarity on what might trigger government fines. Several suspected cases of banks and money transfer companies illegally restricting financial services for American Muslims have been recorded. That said, CAIR has had a long history of opposing most US counter-terrorism legislation and policies.
CAIR describes itself as “a grassroots civil rights and advocacy group and as “America’s largest Islamic civil liberties organization.” It was founded in 1994 by three officers of the Islamic Association of Palestine, part of the US Hamas infrastructure at that time. Documents discovered during the terrorism trial of the Holy Land Foundation confirmed that the founders and current leaders of CAIR were part of the Palestine Committee of the Muslim Brotherhood and that CAIR itself is part of the US Muslim Brotherhood. The organization is led by Nihad Awad, its longstanding Executive Director and one of the three founders. Recently, CAIR has been generally portrayed in the media as a Muslim civil rights group.