In the face of growing Islamophobia in the country, a Muslim civil rights group has filed two lawsuits, including a class action suit, against government officials for placing innocent citizens on terror watch lists without any due process.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which filed the lawsuits Tuesday on behalf of 18 plaintiffs, alleges the designation process for such lists is unconstitutional. It also claims Terrorist Screening Database includes names of citizens “based on mere guesses, hunches and conjecture, and even simply based on matters of race, ethnicity, national origin [and] religion.”
One of the people affected by this apparent discrimination includes a 4-year-old California boy, who was “seven months old when his boarding pass was first stamped with the ‘SSSS’ designation, indicating that he had been designated as a ‘known or suspected terrorist.’”
The class action suit demands monetary compensation while the other asks that plaintiffs be removed from the lists, a court ruling saying the watch lists are unconstitutional and an official notification when people are placed on the lists along with an explanation.
“The terrorism watch lists are premised on the false notion that the government can somehow accurately predict whether an innocent American citizen will commit a crime in the future based on religious affiliation or First Amendment activities,” said Lena Masri, legal director for CAIR in Michigan. “Our lawsuits challenge the wrongful designation of thousands upon thousands of American Muslims as known or suspected terrorists without due process.”
The FBI and Justice Department nominated 227,932 people for the watch list in 2009, according to the complaint. However, in 2013, the number more than doubled to 468,749. In addition, the city of Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to less than 100,000 people and has a prominent Muslim community, somehow “contains the second-highest concentration of Americans on the federal government’s watch list.”
The suits distinguish the watch lists as the Selectee List and the No-Fly List. Persons on the first are subject to extra screening at airport and land border crossings and often find “SSSS” on their boarding passes while those on the No-Fly list are unable to fly into, out of or even through U.S. airspace. What’s even more horrific is if someone ends up on the list, they have no means of removing themselves or challenging the basis for their inclusion.
It also highlights the fact the authorities do not notify citizens about their placement on the watch lists until they attempt to fly or “feel the web of consequences burdening their lives and aspirations.”
Plaintiff Anas Elhady, for instance, is a U.S. citizen routinely subjected to secondary inspections. Customs Border Patrol officers handcuff and detain him each time he attempts to re-enter the country from Canada. Officers question him from four to 12 hours each time.
The blatant Islamophobia in these complaints is extremely disturbing, to say the least. What possible threat a toddler could have posed to the country? Also, judging someone’s potential for extremism or terrorism based on their name, religion or ethnicity is far from being fair. It also raises questions about the efficiency and credibility of such lists.
Find out more about the lawsuits and the plaintiffs in the video below: