Arab rights group: Western Union not transferring cash

Candice Williams

An Arab-American civil rights group announced Wednesday it has filed a complaint against Western Union over allegations of discriminatory business practices against members of the Arab- and Muslim-American communities.

There were at least a half-dozen complaints in recent months of individuals blocked from using the money transfer service or whose attempted transactions were "subject to unwarranted scrutiny," the group said in a release. One complainant said Western Union had rejected the transfer of money from Dearborn to his family in Jerusalem.

"The overwhelming trend of these incidents suggests that a concerted effort is being made to prevent money transfers based upon racial profiling," the group said.

“Western Union has been used very much so in the Arab and Muslim community and we feel that this chilling effect that it has on a lot of the community by the questioning that they have directed totally and particularly to Arab-American and Muslim-Americans is unjustified and a direct violation of our constitutional rights,” said Nabih Ayad, attorney and founder of the Arab-American Civil Rights League.

“We want to make sure they set a policy in place that does not discriminate on ethnicity or religion.”

The group announced at a news conference Wednesday at its Dearborn offices that it had filed the complaint last week with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In addition to the complaint, the advocacy group said it would file a lawsuit if the issue is not resolved.

Western Union said that it provides services to more than 200 countries and that it maintains strict controls, including customer verification, to comply with regulations in each country, according to a company statement Wednesday.

“While we can not provide specific information on any one customer, due to privacy rules, we are looking into the matter,” it said. “At Western Union, we value our customers and the diversity they represent.”

Among the complainants at the news conference was Haidar Abdallah, 39, who said he sends money to his wife and children in Jerusalem each month.

Abdallah said he was a Western Union customer since 2009, but in recent months his transfers ranging from $300 to $400 were rejected without explanation. Western Union requested additional information about Abdallah’s employment and financial background, but would not reinstate his transfer privileges, the group said.

“I tried sending money to my family and it’s not an absurd amount of money,” Abdallah said. “I have not been given a reason why they denied it. I’ve filed forms for them. They said it was just their preference and they wouldn’t give me a reason why. I feel they discriminate against me for my ethnicity, because of who I am and where I’m originally from.”

Ayad said the organization sent a letter requesting that Western Union clarify its policies, but said it has not received a response.

Arab-American Civil Rights League officials say agents at Western Union locations accept the money, but the transfer is later denied at the corporate level.

Abdallah said that he has had to return to the store the next day for a refund after learning his family could not receive the money. He said he now uses MoneyGram.

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