Alexandria, VA – For Yaseen Kadura, a U.S. citizen of Libyan descent, placement on the no-fly list caused problems far beyond the airport.
He was handcuffed and interrogated for hours when he tried to cross borders by land. He struggled to pick a medical school, unsure where he could travel. And when he tried to use Western Union, the transfers never went through. Even after he was removed from no-fly list, many of the problems persisted.
On Tuesday, a Muslim civil rights group filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria on behalf of Kadura and thousands of other Americans who have been placed on the terror watch list. The suit seeks unspecified monetary compensation.
Among the plaintiffs is a 4-year-old California boy, listed as Baby John Doe, who according to the lawsuit was placed on the list of known or suspected terrorists as a 7-month-old boy.
The FBI didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The no-fly list has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, which have been successful to varying degrees.
The litigation has forced the government to make modest changes in its administration of the list — those who challenge their placement on the list are now informed of their status and given general information about the reason. Prior to that, the government wouldn’t confirm whether an individual is on the list.
The lawsuits have dragged on for years, the no-fly list itself remains intact and the broader terrorist watch list continues to expand.
The class-action suit provides several advantages, according to Gadeir Abbas, one of the lawyers who filed it. It allows those who were wrongly placed on the list to receive compensation.
It eliminates procedural difficulties that would occur when a plaintiff would challenge the list and the government would subsequently allow that individual to fly to avoid a potentially adverse ruling from a sympathetic judge. And it allows the suit to focus on some of the side effects of the watch list that are sometimes overlooked.
Kadura seems to have been placed on the watch list after traveling in 2011 to Libya, where he was working and helping journalists who were flocking to the country to cover civil unrest there.
Shortly after returning, his travel troubles began. In September 2012, he was handcuffed with guns at pointed him and detained at a border crossing after a brief trip to Canada.
He said at one point, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent pressured him to become an informant.
“He said, ‘We know you’re not a bad guy. We want you to work with us,’” Kadura said. He told the agent he wanted a lawyer. The agent said that “if you stick with your lawyer it’s going to be difficult for you.”
Kadura appealed his placement on the no-fly list, and last year the government responded that it “reevaluated Mr. Kadura’s redress inquiry and is now providing a new determination. … At this time the U.S. government knows of no reason Mr. Kadura should be unable to fly.”
Still, Kadura experienced problems. In January, he tried to fly domestically, but it took hours on the phone with government officials and questioning from airport agents before he was allowed to board.
And he still can’t use Western Union, according to the lawsuit.
Other plaintiffs have had citizenship applications placed on hold, been detained at the border and had their phones tapped, according to the lawsuit.
“The government has engaged in a decade-long delusion that being placed on a watch list is not a big deal,” the attorney Abbas said. “The goal is for the watch-listing to affect every aspect of these people’s lives.”
The lawsuit alleges that placement on the watch list is motivated by religious profiling rather than any real security threat.
Many of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are residents of Dearborn, Michigan, which has a large Arab population and has been subjected to aggressive watch-listing tactics by federal agents, said Lena Masri, a CAIR attorney.
More than 1 million people are on the list of “known or suspected terrorists” administered by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, though most are not U.S. citizens.