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Bank clients of Middle Eastern descent want answers on closed accounts

From Washington state to Florida, surprising letters from banks have turned up in the mailboxes of at least a dozen people.

The message in each case: Your bank account is being closed. What frustrates the recipients is not only that they are all of Middle Eastern descent — leading them to suspect discrimination — but that the banks refused to provide the reason for kicking them out.

“We never understood what’s going on,” said AbdulHyee Waqas, who had his Bellevue, Wash., nonprofit group’s account closed. “We had been a good customer. It was very disheartening.”

Last summer, a Minneapolis dentist went so far as to write detailed explanations of all his transactions, hoping that TCF Bank would let him reopen the joint account with his wife and his personal account. The response: Sorry, we’re not interested in your business.

“I don’t see why there would be a red flag on anything I performed,” said the dentist, a Kuwait native who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from his current bank. “Maybe they have something I’m not aware of, but they said they couldn’t say anything.”

A Florida attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations has asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to look into the closures and determine whether race is playing factor in the decisions. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the issue was a matter for banking regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“The bureau takes seriously any allegations of discrimination in the consumer financial marketplace and is committed to ensuring consumers have fair and equal access to credit,” a bureau spokeswoman said in a statement. But she added: “We cannot confirm or comment on whether any investigation is ongoing.”

Frustrated by the responses from regulators, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is contemplating a lawsuit against banks, said Executive Director Dawud Walid.’

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