tampabay.com

Muslims report increasing acts of bias

The largest number of complaints involve applications for citizenship.

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published June 21, 2007


TAMPA - Ahmed Sheikh-Khalil proudly remembers the day he aced his citizenship test.

"Passed with flying colors, " said Khalil, 50, a native of Syria. "I still have the congratulations letter."

Immigration officials were supposed to notify him within 120 days whether he would be a U.S. citizen. But more than three years later, Khalil remains in bureaucratic limbo.

"It's because of my name, " said Khalil, a Tampa resident. "If I had done something wrong, they would make me leave."

Khalil is one of 168 Muslims who reported acts of discrimination to the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, according to a report released Wednesday.

Complaints of civil rights violations jumped 50 percent from the previous year, ranking Florida fourth in the nation, the report showed.

Ahmed Bedier, the council's Tampa director, said there are a number of factors contributing to the discrimination, including continued tension over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism.

The largest number of complaints, nationwide and in Florida, were related to immigration. Muslims applying for citizenship often face unfair delays because their background checks are not processed as quickly as those of other applicants, Bedier said.

There also were reports of employment discrimination, violence and housing discrimination.

According to the report, complaints have been rising steadily nationwide since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, from about 350 in 2000 to almost 2, 500 last year.

Bedier said there were 55 reports of discrimination in the Tampa Bay area in 2006.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.