A Dearborn-based Arab-American advocacy group is asking the federal government to investigate banks in southeastern Michigan for closing accounts of community members.
The Arab-American Civil Rights League said it sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General's Office on March 18 after learning of more than a dozen closures in the past month.
"Over the past several weeks the ACRL has received an unprecedented number of complaints from community members who have had their bank accounts closed, for no apparent reason, by their banking institutions," Rana Abbas, executive director of the ACRL said. "Most of these complaints are from successful professionals or business owners, who have banked with the same institution for years."
Abbas said other than a letter informing a customer of the bank’s decision to close the account, individuals have received no further notice, or explanation of the decision.
"While such practices are not unfamiliar to the Arab American community, based on the overwhelming number of complaints that have come through the ACRL in recent months, it is apparent that a concerted effort is now being made to close the accounts of individuals who fit a certain profile," Abbas said.
Nabih Ayad, chairman of the ACRL, said a complaint has been filed on behalf of customers who bank at Huntington National Bank, Chase, Flagstar, Comerica, and other major financial institutions in southeastern Michigan.
"How would you feel if you were told to go to hell by your banking institution after several years? It's embarrassing, and it's dehumanizing. We're requesting accountability," he said.
Dearborn resident Jaafar Elrez, who operates Jena Sound Stage & Lighting, Inc., said he received an account closure notice from Flagstar Bank on Feb. 4.
According to Elrez, the bank told him it was closing his personal account, his business account, and the accounts of his 7- and 8-year-old children after he received money from his family in Lebanon planning to move to the United States.
"When I called the vice president of the bank, she told me she felt suspicious of the money transfer and told me she can close any account she wants," Elrez said.
Resident Nazih Jawad, a local pharmacist, said he received a similiar notice from Flagstar Bank.
"It is unacceptable that a U.S. citizen does not have the right to bank where they choose, or to be forced out of a 'reputable' financial institution for no given reason and without any provocation," Ayad said.
Abbas said since the Bank Security Act (BSA) went into effect in 2001, Arab Americans have been increasingly targeted with account closures. The act requires financial institutions to monitor and report certain transactions to the FBI.
"Banks are misinformed and they are using their discretion to close accounts as a preemptive strike. If they are in doubt, they shut it down," he said.
The Arab-American Civil Rights League has established a community hotline to help residents affected by bank account closures.
"This is just not an isolated problem. We believe it is happening to hundreds if not thousands of Arab Americans," Ayad said.
For more information, call 1-313-633-0890.