FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. (CN) - Among thousands of Americans ensnared in the government's bigoted watch list was a 7-month-old baby whose "only crime was that he was born to an American Muslim family," an attorney said Tuesday at a press conference on two federal complaints over the Terrorist Screening Center.
Though the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Michigan, filed the lawsuits today in Alexandria, Va., where the watch list is maintained, CAIR held its press conference this morning at its offices in Michigan.
"Baby Doe," as he is described in the class action, was 7-months-old "when his boarding pass was first stamped with the 'SSSS' designation, indicating that he had been designated as a 'known or suspected terrorist,'" the complaint states.
The class action includes 14 other named plaintiffs, but the lawsuit notes that "there are thousands upon thousands of potential plaintiffs making it impractical to bring them before the court."
CAIR legal director Lena Masri noted at the press conference that it is not uncommon to see babies, the elderly, disabled, and even deceased people, with Muslim-sounding names on federal watch lists.
The lists include a no-fly list that prevents designees from flying "into, out of, or even through United States airspace," according to the complaint.
Another component called the "selectee list" meanwhile subjects designees to extra screening at airports and land-border crossings.
Like Baby Doe, people on this list "often find 'SSSS' on their boarding passes printed by airline employees which is marked to indicate a passenger's watch list status to airline employees and screeners."
"The standards for watch list inclusion do not evince even internal logic," the complaint states, and persons placed on the list "have no means of removing themselves or challenging the basis for their inclusion."
Eight of the named plaintiffs, plus all three John Doe plaintiffs, hail from Michigan, and the complaint notes that the city of Dearborn "is disproportionately represented on the federal watch list."
With a 40 percent Arab population, "Dearborn is among the top five cities in the country, alongside Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Diego, represented on the federal watch list," the complaint states.
In addition to the 73-page class action, CAIR filed a second federal lawsuit in the same court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.
CAIR filed both suits with the Washington, D.C.-based Law Office of Gadeir Abbas and the Troy, Mich., firm Akeel & Valentine.
"I was subject to an extensive pat-down," said Mariam Jukaku, a 32-year-old named plaintiff from California, on her 2012 experience at the airport when her boarding pass was stamped with the "SSSS" designation.
"The TSA agent even ran her finger along the inside of the waistband of my pants," added Jukaku.
CAIR said others have found out about their placement on the terrorism watch lists when their bank accounts are suddenly closed, or when they are unable to use services such as Western Union to wire money.
One of the John Does says he was even tortured in Kuwait because "the United States has placed him on the No Fly List."
The allegations concerning this individual, Gulet Mohamed, align with a part of the complaint that says Terrorist Screening Center officials "have utilized the watch list, not as a tool to enhance aviation and border security, but as a bludgeon to coerce American Muslims into becoming informants or forgoing the exercise of their rights, such as the right to have an attorney present during law enforcement questioning."
Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR, Michigan, noted at the press conference that most people committing terrorism attacks in the United States are not of the Muslim faith. FBI statistics show that 94 percent of terrorism attacks in America were committed by people who were not Muslim, and 95 percent of people killed by the terrorist group Islamic State, often abbreviated as ISIS or ISIL, aare Muslim.
"We don't believe in guilty by association as American Muslims," Walid said.
CAIR says the government has an ulterior motive in pushing the watch list.
"Defendants have utilized the watch list, not as a tool to enhance aviation and border security, but as a bludgeon to coerce American Muslims into becoming informants or forgoing the exercise of their rights, such as the right to have an attorney present during law enforcement questioning," the complaint states.
CAIR's officers expressed skepticism "that the government can somehow predict whether an innocent American will commit a terrorism act in the future based on his religious beliefs or constitutionally protected activities."
"I think the question is, are we going to be selective about this?" Walid asked. " Are we following people and placing people on this list who go to KKK meetings, people who go to Donald Trump rallies? Like when we open up and start asking questions about sacrificing civil liberties. What happens is that we as a country end up losing both but who gets affected the most are people of color and minorities. Because at the end of the day we all know that white folks who go to Donald Trump rallies or Ku Klux Klan meetings are not being surveyed and not being put on terrorist watch lists. Even though we know by historical data that a large percentage of terrorists who have killed Americans are white males."
Yaseen Kadura, a 26-year-old plaintiff in today's suits from Illinois, was part of a 2014 lawsuit over the no-fly list.
CAIR does not want to eliminate the watch list completely but rather to have it undergo a "major overhaul," the group's attorneys said.
"We have to go through the course of litigation to come to a resolution of the watch list that secures the constitutional rights of Americans and at the same time balances the concerns of the govement and protecting Americans," Masri said.
The complaints same various Terrorist Screening Center officials as defendants, including current TSC director Christopher Piehota.
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