Businessman Jaafar Elrez of Dearborn Heights, left, says Flag Star Bank closed his four personal and business accounts without explanation. Rana Abbas and Nabih Ayad of the Arab-American Civil Rights League say Flag Star and other banks are targeting the Arab community. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Dearborn — An advocacy group said Tuesday that banks in southeast Michigan have been closing the accounts of Arab-Americans without cause or explanation and is requesting a federal investigation.
The Arab-American Civil Rights League said it has gotten about a dozen complaints in the last month and a half from people notified by letter that their accounts were being closed. They blasted the practice as "dehumanizing" and "discrimination."
The group believes many more people are affected and said it is considering suing.
"A lot of these people are business professionals, doctors, pharmacists," said Nabih Ayad, chairman of the league. "This community has been discriminated and stigmatized after the acts of 9/11 and it will continue to be stigmatized."
Monday, the league asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the closures.
"It's very similar to what happened with the no-fly list, where there was no justification," Ayad said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Jaafar Elrez of Dearborn Heights, who owns a sound and lighting business in Dearborn, said personal and business accounts with Flagstar Bank were closed without explanation, including accounts for his two children, 7 and 8.
"Me and my brother … we received the same letter," said Elrez, who tried to call to find out what happened. He said a corporate manager called back a day later, and "she said she can close any account."
A Flagstar spokeswoman said the bank won't discuss current or former customers.
Nazih Jawad, a Dearborn pharmacist, said he got a letter from Huntington National Bank saying his account was closed.
"We don't get reasons as to why these things happen," said Jawad. "In America, you're not guilty until you are proven guilty. We believe we are owed the right to know what happened."
A spokeswoman for Huntington said the bank has not seen any complaints and cannot comment.
League Executive Director Rana Abbas said the group hopes to hear from others who have had their accounts closed.
"We understand that these institutions are governed by federal guidelines, but that doesn't allow them to take this egregious action without due process of the law," she said.The league has a hotline to take complaints about closed accounts at (313) 633-0890.