CAIR to Announce Lawsuit in D.C., N.J., Mass., Mich. Seeking End to Secret Government Watchlist

Suit with a dozen Muslim plaintiffs will mark the 20th anniversary (Sept. 16) of Terrorism Screening Dataset

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 9/15/2023) – On Monday, Sept. 18, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, plans to hold a news conference to announce the filing of a lawsuit with a dozen plaintiffs seeking an end to the government’s secret watchlist that almost exclusively targets Muslims for harassment and humiliation when they travel. CAIR’s lawsuit will mark the 20th anniversary (Sept. 16) of the Terrorism Screening Dataset.

NOTE: Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah of Prospect Park, N.J., is one of the plaintiffs. On May 1, Khairullah was barred from attending the White House’s annual Eid al-Fitr celebration.    

CAIR chapters in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan will also hold news conferences announcing the lawsuit for plaintiffs in those states.


WHERE: CAIR-NJ Office, 570 Broad Street, Suite 703 Newark, NJ 07102

WHEN: Monday, September 18, at 12:30 p.m.

WHO: Mohamed T. Khairullah, Mayor of Prospect Park, NJ; Ayah Zaki, Civil Rights Attorney at CAIR-NJ.; Gadeir Abbas, Senior Litigation Attorney at CAIR LDF



CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Communications Manager Dina Sayedahmed, 908-668-5900 ext. 103,


WHERE: CAIR National Office, 453 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003

WHEN:  Monday, Sept. 18 at 11 a.m.

CONTACT: CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri, 202-642-4934,; CAIR Staff Attorney Hannah Mullen, 202-742-6420, hmullen@cair.comCAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726,; CAIR National Communications Manager Ismail Allison, 202-770-6280,


In June, CAIR released a report, titled “Twenty Years Too Many, A Call to Stop the FBI’s Secret Watchlist,” which details the federal government’s use of the Terrorism Screening Dataset to target Muslims, and called President Biden to take action to address the watchlist.

CAIR’s report found that the overwhelming majority, estimated to be around 98 percent, of names on the watchlist are Muslim names. More than 350,000 entries alone in the portion of the watchlist acquired by CAIR include some transliteration of Mohamed or Ali or Mahmoud, and the top 50 most frequently occurring names are all Muslim names.

An individual’s watchlist status is used by government agencies to harass and humiliate people when they travel, to outright forbid people from flying, to deny individuals licenses and permits, to refuse to hire people or fire people already employed, to delay or deny visas and applications for U.S. citizenship or a U.S. passport, and to subject the innocent people on the list to dangerous and invasive law enforcement actions.



The watchlist is Islamophobic. An expert statistical analysis of leaked portions of the 2019 watchlist estimates that at least 98.3% of the names on the watchlist are identifiably Muslim. That doesn’t happen by accident. The federal government admits that they consider individuals’ race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin in deciding who to place on the watchlist. The government intentionally targets Muslims for inclusion on the list and considers individuals from Muslim-majority countries, travel to Muslim-majority countries, attending mosques, zakat donations to Muslim charities, the wearing of typical Muslim dress, the frequency of Muslim prayer, adherence to Islamic religious practices, Islamic religious study, the transfer of money to individuals residing in Muslim-majority countries, affiliations with Muslim organizations, and associations with Muslims in the United States or abroad to be suspicious.    

The government places individuals on the watchlist without investigating, indicting, or convicting them of any crime. The government admits that it places people on the watchlist even when they are not being investigated or prosecuted for any terrorism-related crime. In practice, that means that innocent Americans—who could not be charged or convicted of any crime in court—are nonetheless targeted for harm and stigmatization by the federal government.    

The government places individuals on the watchlist without any warning or explanation. When someone is placed on the watchlist, they receive no notice from the government. They have no idea why the government considers them worthy of permanent suspicion, have no opportunity to dispute the government’s decision, and no way to confront and counter the supposedly derogatory information on which their placement is based. Instead, one day, out of the blue, based on the way that they’re being harmed and mistreated by federal government agents or other entities, they realize that they’ve been branded as a “known or suspected terrorist.”    

Watchlist placement turns innocent Americans’ lives upside-down. When someone is placed on the watchlist, almost every aspect of their life can be affected. The federal government sends the watchlist to federal agencies, over 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, over 500 private entities, and dozens of foreign countries, all of which then take actions to harm and stigmatize listed individuals.

As a result of being watchlisted, innocent Americans are publicly humiliated, surveilled, and harassed when they travel; prevented from attending weddings, funerals, graduations, and other milestone events; separated from their children; denied jobs, security clearances, U.S. citizenship, visas, gun licenses, and other government benefits; and even effectively exiled from the United States.

Watchlist placement extrajudicially sentences innocent Americans to permanent second-class citizenship. CAIR’s lawsuit reveals for the first time that, even on the rare occasion that the government removes an individual from the watchlist, an individual’s past watchlist will continue to haunt them. Federal agencies retain records of past watchlist status and use them to deny formerly-listed individuals access to government buildings, security clearances, federal employment, and other licenses and government benefits.


CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.


CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Communications Manager Dina Sayedahmed,, 908-668-5900 ext. 103