Nationwide Anti-Mosque Activity by ACLU

In the wake of the 2015 attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked. Although these sentiments manifest themselves in many ways, attacks on mosques directly take aim at religious freedom. Existing and proposed mosque sites across the country have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts, and there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

While mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking, and noise levels, those asserted concerns are often pretexts masking anti-Muslim sentiment. Government officials in some areas of the country have yielded to this religious bigotry, treating mosques and Islamic centers differently than other proposed houses of worship and/or denying zoning permits without the compelling interest that is required by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (a federal civil rights law that affords heightened legal protection to the use of property for religious purposes). Even where local governments strongly support religious freedom, private citizens nevertheless often seek to intimidate Muslims into forgoing the exercise of this freedom.

Trump’s Muslim registry wouldn’t be illegal, constitutional law experts say

The day after Donald Trump won the White House, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote on Twitter that if the president-elect attempts “to implement his unconstitutional campaign promises, we’ll see him in court.”

But when it comes to the immigrant registration program that would target Muslims entering the United States — outlined Wednesday by an adviser to Trump’s transition team — three constitutional lawyers say the ACLU won’t have much of a shot before a judge.

That program, labeled the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, required those entering the U.S. from a list of certain countries — all but one predominantly Muslim — to register when they arrived in the U.S., undergo more thorough interrogation and be fingerprinted. The system, referred to by the acronym NSEERS, was criticized by civil rights groups for targeting a religious group and was phased out in 2011 because it was found to be redundant with other immigration systems.

Robert McCaw, director of government affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said a reinstitution of NSEERS would be akin to “just turning back the clock.” CAIR will lobby heavily against the system as not only discriminatory but also ineffective, McCaw said, if it ends up being proposed by the Trump administration.

He also accused Kobach, an architect of the original NSEERS program when he was with the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration, of having “a long ax to grind with the Muslim community.”

Muslim residents sue U.S. over citizenship denials

August 1, 2014

Five long-time U.S. residents who are Muslim or from Muslim-majority countries sued the federal government on Thursday, saying the Department of Homeland Security was unfairly denying or delaying requests for citizenship and permanent residency on vague security grounds.

The plaintiffs, all immigrants who are either practicing Muslims or are from predominantly Muslim nations, complain their immigration or naturalization petitions were illegally thwarted after they were flagged for potential national security concerns under a federal program.

They complained that the criteria for flagging applications under the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) were secretive and broader than authorized by the U.S. Congress, essentially creating an immigration blacklist.

The ACLU said the five plaintiffs were among thousands of U.S. residents of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim or South Asian backgrounds who are similarly being blocked from citizenship, asylum, green cards and visas, without explanation.

The plaintiffs include Ahmad and Reem Muhanna, Palestinian Muslims and U.S. legal permanent residents whose 2007 citizenship application was denied in 2012 and is under appeal.

Fellow plaintiff Ahmed Hassan, a Muslim refugee from Somalia, has been seeking legal permanent residency since 2006.

The lawsuit comes a month after a federal judge ruled that the government’s no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights was unconstitutional because it left them no way to contest that decision.

Lawsuit Contends Surveillance Database Is Too Lax on Reporting Criteria

July 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — Intent on not overlooking clues about any terrorist plots after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government spread a now-familiar slogan: “If you see something, say something.” Less visibly, it built a national database to better harness reports of suspicious activity in the hunt for terrorists.

On Thursday, five California men opened a legal front over the recurring tensions between collective security measures and individual rights by filing a lawsuit that challenges the Suspicious Activity Reporting database. They contend that it is too easy for people engaged in innocuous activities to be put into the database and scrutinized as if they were a threat.

The plaintiffs include two white photographers who were confronted by security guards at a natural gas tank and by the police at a refinery; an Egyptian-American who tried to buy a large number of computers at a Best Buy store; a Pakistani-American who was looking around in a train station with his mother, who wore a Muslim head scarf; and a white Muslim convert who was looking at a flight simulator game on the Internet.

Each contends that he was added to the database for his behavior, although only two, according to previously disclosed government documents, have been able to prove it. The lawsuit argues that federal standards are too lax in allowing a security guard’s or a police officer’s report to be uploaded into the national database.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The suit was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, working with lawyers for the law firm Bingham McCutchen.

The lawsuit also contends that the system can lend itself to racial profiling. It points to reports involving plaintiffs like Khaled Ibrahim, an American citizen of Egyptian descent who lives in San Jose, Calif. The suit said that he worked as a purchasing agent for a computer consulting and service company and that “on several occasions” in 2011 tried to buy a large number of computers for the firm at a Best Buy store, which told him it did not sell computers in bulk.

The No-Fly List Is Unconstitutional

June 25, 2014

The federal government’s no-fly list, which prevents those suspected of terrorist ties from boarding flights in the United States or flying through American airspace, is reported to include more than 20,000 names—a number that metastasized after the Sept. 11 attacks. There’s a low evidentiary standard for getting on the list. Once on, it’s not only difficult to get off but almost impossible to find out why, exactly, one was added in the first place.

In a ruling on Tuesday, a federal judge recognized that the shadowy procedures surrounding the list are unconstitutional. Judge Anna Brown of the U.S. District Court in Oregon found that the government’s failure to provide any notice, explanation or meaningful way to challenge a no-fly designation violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, as well as Congress’s instruction to provide a chance to appeal one’s inclusion on the list and correct inaccurate information.

The new ruling came in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit brought on behalf of 13 U.S. citizens prevented from boarding flights, including four military veterans. The inability to fly caused them real harm.

Judge Brown cited prolonged separation from spouses and children, loss of employment opportunities and government benefits, the inability to participate in religious rites and pursue educational choices. She also cited the stigma of being identified to airline employees and potentially other travelers of having suspected ties to terrorism.

Hina Shamsi, one of the A.C.L.U. lawyers who argued the case, made the point that “it doesn’t help either national security or due process rights to have a bloated system in which many innocent people land on the list mistakenly without a meaningful process to clear their names.”

“This should serve as wakeup call to the government,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Hina Shamsi said in a statement. “This decision also benefits other people wrongly stuck on the no-fly list because it affords them [an opportunity to challenge] a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.”

Warrantless wiretapping has managed to duck significant judicial review. Until now.

January 30, 2014

 

Jamid Muhtorov was indicted in January 2012 for allegedly making plans to travel overseas and fight on behalf of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), a designated foreign terrorist organization. In October, he became the first defendant to be informed that the case against him was built on information obtained via warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act. Now, he’s challenging the constitutionality of that surveillance.

It’s a significant development. For years, the government has successfully ducked judicial review of the program outside of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court by arguing that the people filing lawsuits couldn’t prove that they had been spied on. But with the notification to Muhtorov, that strategy won’t work any more, making his case an almost unavoidable test of the constitutional merits of warrantless wiretapping.

Last year, the Supreme Court dismissed an earlier challenge to the FAA brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a coalition of human rights, media and legal organizations. In its opinion, the high court agreed with the government that the groups couldn’t sue because they had no proof that they were subject to the surveillance they alleged. But a crucial part of the ruling was the government’s claim that there was someone else who would be able to challenge the law’s constitutionality: criminal defendants. The Justice Department said that if it ever used data collected using FISA in a criminal prosecution, it would alert the defendants of this fact, allowing them to raise constitutional concerns.

There was just one problem: The government wasn’t actually telling defendants that they had been subject to warrantless surveillance. In fact, the ACLU’s Patrick C. Toomey notes that at the time last year’s case was argued before the high court, “no criminal defendant had ever received notice of FAA surveillance in the five years since the FAA had been enacted.”

Eventually, the Justice Department decided that keeping the information from defendants any longer “could not be justified legally,” and Muhtorov and another defendant who had been convicted received notification about how the FAA was used in developing the cases against them. And now, Muhtorov’s lawyers and the ACLU have filed a motion for suppression of evidence, making a constitutional case against the law:

The FAA violates the Fourth Amendment because it authorizes surveillance that violates the warrant clause and, independently, because it authorizes surveillance that is unreasonable. The statute also violates Article III by requiring judges to issue advisory opinions in the absence of a case or controversy. The procedural deficiencies of the FAA render the statute unconstitutional, and they render the surveillance of Mr. Muhtorov unconstitutional as well.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/30/warrantless-wiretapping-has-managed-to-duck-significant-judicial-review-until-now/

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/terrorism-suspect-challenges-warrantless-surveillance/2014/01/29/fb9cc2ae-88f1-11e3-a5bd-844629433ba3_story.html

Muslims Blacklisted For U.S. Citizenship Under Secret Government Program, Says ACLU

August 21, 2013

By Amy Taxin

 

LOS ANGELES — A government program to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn’t receive sufficient information from the immigrant.

The criteria used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to blacklist immigrants are overly broad and include traveling through regions where there is terrorist activity, the report said. The criteria disproportionately target Muslim immigrants, who often wait years to get a response on their citizenship applications and in some cases are denied, advocates said.

The ACLU learned about the program through records requests after detecting a pattern in cases of Muslim immigrants whose applications to become American citizens had languished.

“It is essentially creating this secret criteria for obtaining naturalization and immigration benefits that has never been disclosed to the public and Congress hasn’t approved,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney and the author of the report.

“I feel like ultimately this is just about politics. They don’t want to be seen as having granted citizenship to somebody who’s going to be the next Boston bomber,” she said.

It was not immediately clear how many immigrants have been reviewed under the program, which began in 2008 and is formally known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program.

Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency routinely checks the background of immigrants applying for benefits and prioritizes the country’s safety and the integrity of the immigration system.

“We are vigilant in executing these responsibilities, and will not sacrifice national security or public safety in the interest of expediting the review of benefit applications,” Bentley said in a statement.

Under the program, immigration officers determine whether a case poses a national security concern and confer with the appropriate law enforcement agency that has information about the immigrant. Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time. Most applications are eventually denied, as the program states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.

Ahmad Muhanna, a 53-year-old Palestinian engineer, said he and his wife applied to become Americans as soon as they were eligible six years ago. They waited nearly four years for a response and were rejected because immigration officers said they failed to note on their application form an association with a Muslim charity to which they had donated money that U.S. authorities later declared a terrorist organization, he said.

Muhanna said the couple has appealed, but the wait has taken its toll. The couple, who lives in a Dallas suburb, missed their eldest daughter’s engagement in Gaza because they feared traveling abroad might jeopardize their green cards. And they haven’t been able to vote, something they’ve wanted to do for some time.

“You can’t just assume every Muslim is a guilty person, and every Muslim is a terrorist,” said Muhanna, adding that he agreed to be interviewed by the FBI with a lawyer present and has lived in the same house, with the same phone number for 15 years, making him easily traceable. “I have chosen this country to be my home and I want to be a citizen.”

 

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/21/muslims-blacklisted-us-citizenship_n_3791799.html

Religious, civil rights groups demand investigation of NYPD spying

October 25, 2013

 

A coalition of 125 religious, civil rights, and community-based organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday (Oct. 24) urging a civil rights investigation into a New York City Police Department program that spies on Muslims.

Groups from several faith traditions signed the letter including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the National Council of Jewish Women, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Sikh Coalition. Civil rights groups include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and the National Network for Arab American Communities.

The NYPD program is already the target of two federal lawsuits, one filed in June by the ACLU and the City University of New York Law School’s Center for Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility, and the other filed in June 2012, by several Muslim plaintiffs represented by Muslim Advocates and the law firm Bhalla and Cho.

“Putting a class of Americans under surveillance based on their religion is a clear violation of our Constitution’s guarantees of equality and religious freedom,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement. “The NYPD’s surveillance program has stigmatized Muslims as suspect and had deeply negative effects on their free speech, association, and religious practice.”

 

www.religionnews.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2013/10/25/religious-civil-rights-groups-demand-investigation-nypd-spying/

Muslims challenging no-fly list win partial court victory

Federal court says Muslim Americans “have a constitutionally protected liberty interest” in being able to travel, lets no-fly list challenge advance.

Thirteen Muslim Americans challenging the U.S. government’s secretive “no-fly” list won a partial victory in federal court when a judge found they “have a constitutionally protected liberty interest” in traveling internationally by air.

But U.S. District Judge Anna Brown has yet to decide whether the government violated their constitutional rights to due process under a policy that excludes individuals from commercial air travel if they are suspected of having ties to terrorism.

In her ruling late on Wednesday in Portland, the judge also asked both the plaintiffs and the Department of Justice for more information before deciding key parts of the case.

The 13 plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens who deny any links to terrorism, say they were placed on the government’s no-fly list without notice or any realistic avenue of appeal.

The Justice Department has also argued that barring one’s access to air travel is not an undue burden or a violation of a constitutionally protected right.

Brown disagreed, disputing the government’s “contention that international air travel is a mere convenience, in light of the realities of our modern world.”

But the judge said she was not ready to decide on a proper remedy in the case, suggesting the answer hinged on whether the plaintiffs had an adequate avenue of appeal.

“The court is not yet able to resolve on the current record whether the judicial-review process is a sufficient, post-deprivation process under the … Constitution,” she wrote.

“For the first time, a federal court has recognized that when the government bans Americans from flying and smears them as suspected terrorists, it deprives them of constitutionally protected liberties, and they must have a fair process to clear their names,” ACLU attorney Nusrat Choudhury said in a statement.

ACLU: Report exposes a covert U.S. Govt immigration program that unlawfully prevents many Muslim applicants from becoming citizens and lawful immigrants

LOS ANGELES AND SAN FRANCISCO – The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), and the law firm of Mayer Brown today released a 70-page report exposing a covert government program called the “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program” (CARRP), which was created in 2008 to make it all but impossible for many Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian individuals to become American citizens, or otherwise obtain legal residency or asylum status.

The government program was meant to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said Wednesday.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn’t receive sufficient information from the immigrant.

The criteria used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to blacklist immigrants are overly broad and include traveling through regions where there is terrorist activity, the report said.

The ACLU learned about the program through records requests after detecting a pattern in cases of Muslim immigrants whose applications to become American citizens had languished.

“It is essentially creating this secret criteria for obtaining naturalization and immigration benefits that has never been disclosed to the public and Congress hasn’t approved,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney and the author of the report.

Under the program, immigration officers determine whether a case poses a national security concern and confer with the appropriate law enforcement agency that has information about the immigrant. Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time. Most applications are eventually denied, as the program states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.

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