Muslims Want Answers on Nixed Airport Clearance

WASHINGTON (CN) – An Arab civil rights group brought a federal lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection to find out why the agency stripped several dozen Muslims of their expedited airport security clearances.

The ADC, short for Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., federal court that shortly after the 2016 presidential election, it began receiving reports from U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Muslim decent that the CBP had “inexplicably revoked” their participation in the Global Entry System program.

Global Entry is a traveler program that offers expedited security clearance and admission at airports for pre-approved, low-risk travelers coming to the U.S.

The reports of expedited clearance revocations accelerated after the Trump administration’s attempted rollout of the first travel ban, which sought to temporarily halt immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the complaint states.

Calling the revocations part of a wider pattern, the ADC says Muslims were singled out even though their security risk had not changed.

“This pattern corresponded with the unexplained, heightened scrutiny—and in many cases, abusive questioning by CBP officials—directed at Arab and Muslim travelers in the wake of the new administration’s Muslim travel bans,” the seven-page lawsuit reads.

Those who had their precheck clearance revoked were long-time participants of the program, and included doctors, students, bankers and businesspeople, according to the ADC.

“We’re trying to figure out procedurally how it happened,” said attorney Gregory Siskind, who filed the complaint on behalf of the ADC.

The Memphis, Tenn. attorney added, “Whether there was any kind of policy change at the agency that was being implemented – whether it was somebody acting on his or her own.”

Siskind said that he, along with Nashville immigration attorney Andrew Free, had first noticed reports about revocations through social media queries, which prompted them to submit a March 8 Freedom of Information Act request in conjunction with the ADC.

They asked the CBP for records related to each of the two dozen affected travelers they had identified since Nov. 9, and for data about annual revocations dating back to 2012 and other records related to agency directives about the Global Entry program.

Tuesday’s lawsuit alleges that the CBP has not yet told the ADC whether it will comply with the FOIA request, or if it has identified any documents it intends to disclose to the civil rights group, which prompted Siskind and Free to file the complaint on behalf of the ADC.

The question of how widespread the issue was remains unanswered, Siskind said, adding that he hopes any documents the CBP releases will shed light on the extent of it.

“The travel ban was very specific in limiting its scope to people who were coming to the U.S. on visas,” he said. “This was obviously way beyond what was called for in the travel ban, so we’re trying to figure out if there was basically a shadow ban that was happening that wasn’t called for in the executive order.”

That would raise more constitutional issues, he added.

Since filing the March FOIA request, Siskind said he has not become aware of any new revocations.

He pointed to news coverage about the revocations and the FOIA request itself as factors that might have stemmed the flow of new cases.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m hoping that was the case.”

According to Siskind, several of the two dozen travelers have since had their precheck privileges restored.

CBP declined to comment on the pending litigation.