Posted by Guest on September 24, 2016 in Blog

By Jodutt Basrawi

The Arab American Institute hosted a congressional briefing on Friday, September 23rd about profiling and due process concerns that arise with government watch-listing.  Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D, MI-12) provided opening remarks ahead of a panel of experts on civil rights.  Chris Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union, Adam Bates of the CATO Institute, and Ramzi Kassem of the CLEAR Project at CUNY School of Law joined AAI Executive Director Maya Berry on the panel.

Dingell.jpgRep. Dingell, who has experienced gun violence firsthand, has championed discussion surrounding “No Fly, No Buy” legislation and has highlighted due process concerns associated with government watch lists.  Rep. Dingell represents Michigan’s 12th District includes the City of Dearborn - home to the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States, and the second-most watch-listed city, after New York city.

During her remarks, Dingell discussed a letter that she, along with Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D, CA-19) and Ted Poe (R, TX-2), circulated to fellow Representatives. The letter, addressed to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson urged him to review DHS’ watch-listing redress process, called DHS TRIP.

Panelists highlighted profiling and due process concerns with both the Selectee List, which requires individuals to undergo additional screening(s) at airports, and the No Fly list, which bars individuals from boarding commercial flights to, from, or over the U.S. airspace. The Arab American Institute’s infographic on the “Terrorist Watch List” illustrates various lists the government maintains and which U.S. government agencies maintain each list.

The briefing was aimed at highlighting some of the conversation points that were largely overlooked during the debate on “No Fly, No Buy.” 

Adam Bates of the Cato Institute noted that “watch lists have no adversarial process behind them…They are created through a secretive process that goes against tenants of due process.  This is a scenario that the Founding Fathers of this country planned to prevent for the future of this country.”  He added that “Arab Americans are bearing the brunt against this secretive process.” 

The ACLU, which has led on the issue of watch lists, has achieved some success among its litigation efforts to erode some of the discriminatory practices in the creation of the watch lists. 

Chris Anders highlighted the profiling concerns with Dearborn being the second most watch-listed city, “Nobody from Dearborn has been convicted of terror charges.” He added that the redress procedures to get off of the no-fly or selectee list are riddled with obstacles that can take years to overcome.

Ramzi Kassem, who heads the CLEAR Project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility), discussed clients his clinic assisted who were on the no-fly list, and appealed to the diverse audience, “There is a reason to be worried about watch list practices in terms of our self-interests,” Kassem said.  “There is a trend in which watch-listing practices are beginning to target other groups of people besides Arab and Muslim Americans.  Watch lists are moving towards targeting dissidents of U.S. policies, including environmental activists and Black Lives Matter activists.”

If you missed out on attending the briefing you can watch it here: 


Jodutt Basrawi is a Fall 2016 Intern at the Arab American Institute.