CAIR Announces Lawsuit in D.C., Mass., N.J., Mich. Seeking End to Secret Government Watchlist
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, announced Tuesday (Sept. 19, 2023) the filing of a lawsuit with a dozen plaintiffs seeking an end to the government’s secret watchlist that almost exclusively targets Muslims for harassment and humiliation when they travel.
CAIR also announced the findings of its 2023 Muslim Community Watchlist Snapshot Report.
Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah of Prospect Park, N.J., is one of the plaintiffs. On May 1, Khairullah was barred from attending the White House’s annual Eid al-Fitr celebration. CAIR chapters in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan are also holding news conferences announcing the lawsuit for plaintiffs in those states.
CAIR also announced the results of its “2023 Muslim Community Watchlist Snapshot Report” showing that more than a third of Muslim respondents reported having “SSSS” placed on their airline boarding passes.
In a statement, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said: “We applaud our brave clients and attorneys for taking on the federal government’s discriminatory and unconstitutional watchlist. This system has caused great harm to the lives of thousands of innocent people. As this litigation moves forward, we again call on the federal government to dismantle the watchlist.”
CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri said: “For 20 years, the government has targeted Muslims for punishment through a secret list that was never approved by Congress and that provides no process or recourse. It has accomplished nothing other than the tremendous pain it has inflicted on American Muslims. The Biden administration has the ability and the obligation to put an end to it.”
In June, CAIR released a report, titled “Twenty Years Too Many, A Call to Stop the FBI’s Secret Watchlist,” which details the federal government’s use of the Terrorism Screening Dataset to target Muslims, and called President Biden to take action to address the watchlist.
CAIR’s report found that the overwhelming majority, estimated to be around 98 percent, of names on the watchlist are Muslim names. More than 350,000 entries alone in the portion of the watchlist acquired by CAIR include some transliteration of Mohamed or Ali or Mahmoud, and the top 50 most frequently occurring names are all Muslim names.
An individual’s watchlist status is used by government agencies to harass and humiliate people when they travel, to outright forbid people from flying, to deny individuals licenses and permits, to refuse to hire people or fire people already employed, to delay or deny visas and applications for U.S. citizenship or a U.S. passport, and to subject the innocent people on the list to dangerous and invasive law enforcement actions.
The watchlist is Islamophobic. An expert statistical analysis of leaked portions of the 2019 watchlist estimates that at least 98.3% of the names on the watchlist are identifiably Muslim.
That doesn’t happen by accident. The federal government admits that they consider individuals’ race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin in deciding who to place on the watchlist.
The government intentionally targets Muslims for inclusion on the list and considers individuals from Muslim-majority countries, travel to Muslim-majority countries, attending mosques, zakat donations to Muslim charities, the wearing of typical Muslim dress, the frequency of Muslim prayer, adherence to Islamic religious practices, Islamic religious study, the transfer of money to individuals residing in Muslim-majority countries, affiliations with Muslim organizations, and associations with Muslims in the United States or abroad to be suspicious.
The government places individuals on the watchlist without investigating, indicting, or convicting them of any crime.
The government admits that it places people on the watchlist even when they are not being investigated or prosecuted for any terrorism-related crime. In practice, that means that innocent Americans—who could not be charged or convicted of any crime in court—are nonetheless targeted for harm and stigmatization by the federal government.
The government places individuals on the watchlist without any warning or explanation. When someone is placed on the watchlist, they receive no notice from the government.
They have no idea why the government considers them worthy of permanent suspicion, have no opportunity to dispute the government’s decision, and no way to confront and counter the supposedly derogatory information on which their placement is based. Instead, one day, out of the blue, based on the way that they’re being harmed and mistreated by federal government agents or other entities, they realize that they’ve been branded as a “known or suspected terrorist.”
Watchlist placement turns innocent Americans’ lives upside-down. When someone is placed on the watchlist, almost every aspect of their life can be affected.
The federal government sends the watchlist to federal agencies, over 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, over 500 private entities, and dozens of foreign countries, all of which then take actions to harm and stigmatize listed individuals.
As a result of being watchlisted, innocent Americans are publicly humiliated, surveilled, and harassed when they travel; prevented from attending weddings, funerals, graduations, and other milestone events; separated from their children; denied jobs, security clearances, U.S. citizenship, visas, gun licenses, and other government benefits; and even effectively exiled from the United States.
Watchlist placement extrajudicially sentences innocent Americans to permanent second-class citizenship. CAIR’s lawsuit reveals for the first time that, even on the rare occasion that the government removes an individual from the watchlist, an individual’s past watchlist will continue to haunt them. Federal agencies retain records of past watchlist status and use them to deny formerly-listed individuals access to government buildings, security clearances, federal employment, and other licenses and government benefits.
CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.
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