Posted on May 16, 2015 in Arab American Institute


Discriminatory scrutiny, mass dragnet

The civil rights and civil liberties of the Arab American community have been acutely impacted by the U.S. government’s national security approach that treats Arabs and Muslims as security threats. Because of this framework, federal and state governments have pursued aggressive national security surveillance programs to stop the threat of U.S.-based recruitment efforts of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL). Though no evidence exists to suggest this is an overriding problem, these government programs, combined with technological advances and the growing mass surveillance dragnet, have significantly infringed upon personal rights in private and public spaces in the name of preventing terrorism.

Many of these national security initiatives, established post-9/11 and in response to the threat of ISIL, come at the expense of the Bill of Rights. Under the current administration, many fear even more egregious offenses to the civil rights and civil liberties of Arab Americans, American Muslims, and other communities targeted for their race, religion, political ideology, and activism. Mass surveillance as permitted under the USA PATRIOT Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and Executive Order 12333—is what enables these so-called “targeted” surveillance programs.

President Trump enacted “Visa Lifecycle Vetting” under ICE, requiring any traveler to the United States to be a “positively contributing member of society,” and be able to “make contributions to the national interest.” Under the program, ICE has the capabilities to develop computer programs to continuously monitor blogs, public hearings, social media websites, and a host of other online sources in order to vet visa applicants based on broad criteria. Under a vague mandate, ICE will be able to exclude or deport whomever it wants. The program calls for immigrants to be continuously surveilled, and not just when applying for a visa.

Worryingly, in late January 2018, a leaked draft report surfaced from the Department of Homeland Security which called on authorities to continuously surveil “persons of interest,” i.e. Sunni Muslims in the United States. An important and strategic part of fighting surveillance programs that single-out specific communities is joining other communities and activists across the political spectrum to reform the basis for the government’s surveillance powers. Surveillance reform requires all concerned citizens to push back against the legal authorities who make these programs possible and engage in unlawful surveillance of any community. For more information, additional resources, and opportunities for immediate action on surveillance, please visit

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As part of AAI's Advocacy Roadmap - we are organizing around




Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and Department of Homeland Security.


(1) Using the letter sent by the Congressional Black Caucus as a model, circulate letters among local community groups, demand that Members of Congress author or sign letters opposing the Visa Lifecycle Vetting Program, and directly engage DHS to express the inevitable discriminatory results of such a program.

(2) Major companies like IBM, Deloitte, LexisNexis, and Booz Allen Hamilton have shown interest in the contract to develop software for the Visa Lifecycle Vetting Program. Companies should not help or benefit from engaging in this discriminatory practice. Sign the petition to IBM’s CEO, imploring him not to assist the administration in deporting immigrants, and address letters to these companies, asking them not to participate in this data collecting effort.

(3) Work together with community groups and advocacy organizations to produce calls, letters, and social media campaigns targeting the Department of Homeland Security to express concern with the program.



Target: Local police, Joint Terrorism Task Force members, and U.S. Attorneys.


(1) Urge local and federal officials to stop treating Arab Americans and American Muslims like suspected terrorists. Call for the end of “Countering Violent Extremism” intervention programs – like “Shared Responsibility Committees” or the Los Angeles Police Department’s RENEW program – that ask our community to spy on one another to try to identify “radicalized” individuals. These programs are based on debunked science and are detrimental to everyone. 

(2) Begin conversations which promote the understanding of the broad concerns of the Arab American community. Like all Americans, Arab Americans are concerned about our safety, jobs, healthcare, and education. There are important ways law enforcement can join alongside our efforts in these areas to improve our community and keep everyone safe. The Arab American Institute recommends the implementation of community-led police trainings to expose law enforcement officials to the community in a constructive, controlled environment.

(3) Organize community meetings or town hall events with local law enforcement where the concerns of the community can be shared, and a conversation about keeping the community safe can begin. Demand greater transparency from law enforcement agencies regarding their investigative techniques and data collection.





Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Department of Homeland Security, and the Intelligence Community.


(1) American citizens on the No Fly List or the Selectee List have their civil rights infringed upon without being charged of a crime. American citizens must demand the legal right to challenge their placement on one of these lists without an unreasonable burden. The fact that citizens cannot already do this is an appalling offense to the due process clause of the Constitution. Through federal elected officials and direct correspondence, demand that DHS reform its redress process for the No Fly List.

(2) The basis for adding U.S. citizens to a watch list needs to require probable cause. Though the nomination criteria are classified, leaks indicate that a single social media post can be reason enough to be added to one of these lists. Through federal elected officials and direct correspondence, demand more transparency around watch listing procedures.

(3) Demand that Congress take up effective oversight of and investigate the vast government watch listing system. Request that Congress require the intelligence community to investigate and reportwhy Dearborn, Michigan – a city of 90,000 people – is the 2nd most watch listed city in the country, only trailing New York City.

(4) Be prepared for rapid response campaigns if Congress introduces more bad legislation like “No Fly, No Buy” that validates secretive watch listing.



Infographic: What is Section 702 & Why Should I Care?