WASHINGTON (Agencies): When Mohamed Khairullah was abruptly turned away from a White House Eid Al-Fitr celebration four months ago, he demanded answers. Khairullah, the long-time Mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, had been invited to the event and was on his way to the US capital when he received a call telling him that he would no longer be allowed to enter the executive mansion. He was offered no explanation. Since then, Khairullah has been joined by prominent New Jersey politicians, including Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Representative Bill Pascrell, in demanding answers.
The Biden administration’s response? Silence. Khairullah is now the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to end the secret FBI watchlist that he was placed on in 2019, which he believes has led to repeated encounters with law enforcement, including the White House disinvitation. “We have sought answers from the federal government as to why I’m on the watchlist and about the treatment I’ve received, whether it’s at airports, border crossings, or the disinvitation to the White House, and it has fallen on deaf ears,” he told Anadolu in a phone interview. Khairullah is joined by 11 other Muslim-Americans who have never been charged with, much less convicted of, terrorism-related offenses. They have chosen to sue the Biden administration in a district court in Massachusetts in an effort to end the watchlist’s use. Khairullah maintains that while the group is seeking an end to the “current dysfunctional list,” they do not want to halt all security screening efforts. “We need a smarter system in terms of protecting American soil, rather than a system based on profiling that mostly targets Arabs and Muslims,” he said. ‘Lifetime Second-Class Citizenship’
The lawsuit argues that by placing individuals on the Terrorist Screening Dataset, also known as the “no-fly list,” 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 harm, including public humiliation, surveillance, harassment during travel, job denials, and being “effectively exiled from the United States.”
The suit further claims that the list itself is a “de facto Muslim registry,” with over 98 percent of publicly identified individuals on it being Muslim. The suit also 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 last 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. Khairullah’s attorneys stated that he was removed from the list in 2019 but continues to suffer negative fallout. “The government still retains records of his past status and uses them against him. As a result, the US Secret Service barred him from entering the White House and attending an Eid Al-Fitr celebration earlier this year,” said Hannah Mullen, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group.
The lawsuit names Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, US 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. Khairullah maintains that by being placed on the watchlist, he has “been criminalized in the eyes of the public.” He criticizes the complete lack of due process and emphasizes that the lawsuit is about far more than just his case. “We are seeking a better America for our children and everybody else’s children. So I think, as Americans who are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness, we’re entitled to answers and we’re entitled to due process.”