Arab-American community fighting banks over closed accounts

DEARBORN,Mich. (WXYZ) - In a small room at the Arab-American Civil Rights League in Dearborn, are two longtime Michiganders, who say they recently were made to feel anywhere but home.

"Very shocked," is how one of the men says he felt when he got a letter from Huntington Bank saying he had five days to clear out his account before it would be closed.

The party store owner had to find a far-away independent bank to accept his business.

Same story when you talk to Husam Bashi, who has been in the US since he was a child.

"I opened a bank account for my mother and father-in-law, with me being a co-signer so I could conduct their business because they are elderly," he says. "A few days later they sent a letter saying they are closing the accounts."

He gave the Investigators what he says is a copy of a letter from another bank. It reads in part, "We no longer are able to maintain our banking relationship with you."

"They are basically telling them, take your money and go somewhere else," says Nabih Ayad.

He filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of what he now says has grown to at least four banks - and dozens of plaintiffs.

"Doctors--we have engineers--we have pharmacists," he says of the plaintiffs. "When the customer inquires as to why my bank account is being closed--they literally tell them--we don't have to tell you."

The case was recently thrown out of court. Ayad is appealing.

"Its really a blanket type discriminatory action against middle eastern Americans in southeast Michigan," he says.

Ahmad Chebbani, Chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, agrees the problem is widespread.

"It is a big concern for us as a business community. It hasn't stopped--it continues to happen," he says.

Huntington Bank is the only one to be sued so far.

But before you think there is resentment against banks in the community, those plaintiffs say, the local branches have been supportive. Its the headquarters sending those letters.

When we visited a Huntington Bank branch in Dearborn to see if the manager wanted to talk--she told us to call corporate.

A spokesman told us the letters have, "Nothing to do with the nationality or religious affiliations of our customers."

When asked if the plaintiffs might have dealings that would get the attention of the US Government, Ayad said, "Can't blame it on wire transfers--most of our clients haven't wire transferred overseas."

This case may soon get some powerful attention. The Arab American Civil Rights League says they have spoken to the governor and federal lawmakers to try and get answers.

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