An Islamic rights group has filed a lawsuit claiming that individuals face ongoing issues with the U.S. terror watchlist, even after their names have been removed.

WASHINGTON — Mohamed Khairullah, the longest-serving Muslim mayor in the U.S., thought he had finally resolved years of airport searches and border interrogations in 2021, when his name appeared to be removed from the government’s secret terror watchlist.

Earlier this year, the unfair treatment was repeated when Khairullah, the mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, was unexpectedly excluded from a White House event commemorating the Eid al-Fatr holiday, which signifies the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. No reason was given for this exclusion.

On Monday, an Islamic civil rights group filed a lawsuit on behalf of Khairullah and other individuals, claiming that his exclusion from the White House event is evidence of the ongoing negative consequences faced by Muslims, even after they have proven their innocence and been removed from the list.

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During a press conference held in Newark, New Jersey, on Monday, Khairullah shared that his difficulties started in 2019 when he went back to his home country, Syria, to gather evidence of the regime’s brutal acts under Bashar Assad’s rule during the ongoing civil war aimed at retaining power.

He claimed that being on the U.S. government’s watchlist has made him feel like a second-class citizen in his new country, and even though he was seemingly taken off the list, his rights have not been fully restored.

He expressed concern that if he doesn’t take action at present, his descendants, including his children and grandchildren, may face discrimination and be treated as inferior due to their ethnic and religious heritage.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, is a broad challenge to the watchlist’s constitutionality, and one of several that the Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed over the watchlist’s 20 years of existence. CAIR’s lawsuits contend that in nearly every instance, the government places names on the list without valid reason, and that Muslims who are on the list face scrutiny only because of anti-Muslim discrimination.

The list of monitored individuals has consistently expanded. The majority of information regarding the list has been obtained through responses provided by CAIR, as they justify their actions.

Attorneys Hannah Mullen and Justin Sadowsky, who assisted in preparing the lawsuit filed on Monday, stated that the current estimate suggests the list consists of approximately 1.5 million individuals, with the majority being Muslim, according to CAIR.

The watchlist is primarily managed by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, with various government agencies also participating in the covert procedure.

The watchlist is utilized by various government agencies. One portion of the database consists of the no-fly list, which prohibits individuals from boarding flights within the United States. Another larger portion of the list permits individuals to fly, but subject to more thorough screening measures.

CAIR argues that through its legal actions, it has revealed the wide range of government agencies utilizing the list, including local law enforcement, the State Department, and the Secret Service. In one of CAIR’s lawsuits, the government admitted that the list is also shared with numerous private entities categorized as “law-enforcement adjacent.”

CAIR raised a question in a separate legal case regarding the government’s process for removing individuals from the watchlist. This occurs in rare instances when people challenge their status or the government initiates a change. CAIR found the response disheartening.

“The government keeps records of individuals who have been added to the watchlist in various databases, which can have ongoing negative consequences for them,” Mullen explained.

While Mullen said there is documentary evidence from past lawsuits that people’s names are retained in databases even after their name was supposed to be removed, anecdotal stories like Khairullah’s are based more on circumstantial evidence. That’s because in most cases, the government refuses to tell people if they’ve been placed on the list or if they’ve been removed.

Khairullah stated that his travel challenges seemed to be resolved in 2021 when he crossed the land border from Canada to the U.S. However, he encountered a lengthy detention and was eventually informed by a supervisor that they believed they had resolved his issue.

Khairullah expressed that he could fly smoothly and believed his difficulties were resolved – until the Secret Service denied his entry to the White House.

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