A group of 12 American Muslims, including a longtime New Jersey mayor, are suing the Justice Department in an attempt to end its use of a secretive FBI watchlist.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Monday, says that by placing the individuals on the Terrorist Screening Dataset, the federal government has “sentenced” the plaintiffs “to lifetime second-class citizenship.”
“That placement designates them as worthy of permanent suspicion and imposes sweeping consequences that alter nearly every aspect of plaintiffs’ lives,” the lawsuit says.
It alleges that the plaintiffs have suffered harms, including public humiliation, surveillance, harassment during travel, job denial and being “effectively exiled from the United States.” It says the list itself is a “de facto Muslim registry” with over 98% of the publicly identified individuals on it being Muslim.
The suit further maintains that even after an individual is removed from the list, they suffer a lifetime of deleterious ripple effects.
“The stigma and harm of watchlisting placement lasts a lifetime, even if defendants eventually decide that an individual does not meet the vague, all-inclusive standard for placement and choose to remove an individual from the watchlist,” it says.
The plaintiffs include Prospect Park, New Jersey Mayor Mohamed Khairullah, who was disinvited from a White House Eid celebration at the last minute in May; Michael Migliore, a Muslim American who resides in Saudi Arabia; Nidal El-Takach, a Michigan resident; and nine others.
Addressing reporters in New Jersey, Khairullah said he has not been officially informed why his name is on the leaked list, nor definitively told that he was removed, and said that “the fact that we were refused access to the White House indicates that this watchlist has a ripple effect.”
“It violates my constitutional right as an American to due process, because there are people out there who think I’m a bad person,” he said. “This was caused by the U.S. government. The U.S. government needs to clear my name and the names of others who are being harassed and intimidated.”
The suite names Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Matthew Olsen, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and others as co-defendants.
Addressing reporters at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) advocacy group’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, staff attorney Hannah Mullen said the plaintiffs “have been swept onto the watchlist because the standards for watchlist inclusion are vague rubber stamps at best, and in practice are used to target and discriminate against Muslims.”
“Over 98% of the names on portions of the watchlist that were leaked in 2019 are identifiably Muslim. That did not happen by accident,” she said.
“The federal government considers the very fact of being Muslim to be suspicious and puts people on the watchlist as a result of their Muslim identity, Islamic religious beliefs, Islamic religious practices, travel to Muslim majority countries and other discriminatory factors. None of our clients have ever been indicted or convicted of a terrorism-related crime,” she added.
The remaining names on the list, some 1%-2%, are comprised of people convicted of terrorist attacks, including the 1995 sarin bombing in Tokyo, jailed Colombian revolutionaries, and an Irish Republican Army bomber, according to CAIR.