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FBI Revives Extra-Judicial Exile Under Trump Administration

The FBI under the Trump Administration has apparently revived extra-judicial exile, a tactic that prevents American citizens from returning to the United States without any judicial process. This practice is at odds with U.S. law that requires the government to allow citizens to enter the country.

In June 2017, Imam Yussuf Awadir Abdi, an American citizen and imam (Muslim religious leader) of Madina Masjid in Salt Lake City, Utah, traveled to Kenya to accompany his wife and children on their return to the United States. All members of his family are either United States citizens or have permission to enter and reside in this country. While he was abroad, Imam Abdi was added to the No-fly List and subsequently prevented from boarding his flight home.

On June 16th CAIR filed an emergency lawsuit on Abdi’s behalf in the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The government was not able to produce a credible reason as to why Imam Abdi was being barred from returning home to the U.S.

The FBI has never acknowledged the existence of extra-judicial exile as an agency tactic, policy or program. However, after several years of intense public pressure and lawsuits filed by CAIR, ACLU, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC); mounting congressional inquiries to the FBI’s liaison office; and, increasing reports in the media – the practice appeared to be abandoned in 2013.

Then came Imam Abdi. Thankfully, CAIR’s emergency lawsuit compelled the United States to allow Imam Abdi to board a flight and return to his family and congregation in Utah.

Without intervention, Imam Abdi would have been unable to return home in time for the last 10 nights of the holy month of Ramadan -- the most important nights of the month – where he is now leading prayers each night at his mosque.  The last 10 nights of Ramadan began on the evening of June 15.

The FBI’s resurrection of its extra-judicial exile program may in part be a response to the Trump Administration continued public support for its unconstitutional and discriminatory “Muslim Ban” – an unlawful set of executive orders that have been halted in several federal circuit courts. If the Trump Administration publicly supports banning entire nations of Muslims, then it is extremely likely the FBI feels free to return to banning individual American Muslims.

How Extrajudicial Exile Works

As CAIR has noted previously, “Many of these U.S. citizens pose no security risk and  are  victims  of unwarranted or  incorrect placement  on  the  government’s  no-fly  list  or  other  federal  watchlists.  Most often, when attempting to return home while abroad, these U.S. citizens are informed at the airport that they have been barred from flying or placed on the no-fly list, often by the FBI. They are often coerced into submitting to interviews with FBI agents or foreign law enforcement while being denied legal counsel.”

In all cases these American citizens at the time of their ordeal faced no criminal charges in their destination country, no criminal charges in the U.S. or outstanding allegations of wrongdoing. In all cases these Americans could return to the U.S. only after intense public appeals, media coverage, and legal challenges. In many cases they presumably remain on the no-fly list.

How Congress Can End Extra-Judicial Exile

CAIR believes that the government is depriving these citizens one of the most basic rights of American citizenship: The right to be in the U.S. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship guarantees prohibit the government from any action that curtails or restricts the citizenship rights of Americans. This protection extends to citizens residing in the U.S. and returning home after traveling abroad.

Last year Republican legislators, backed by groups including CAIR, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Rifle Association, opposed “No Fly, No Buy” legislation because it violated the due process rights of those placed on the watch lists. Many in congress already understand that federal watch list system has high error rates and listed individuals are unable to adequately challenge their designation. 

Congress should act now by immediately requesting the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate the FBI’s practice of placing Americans on the no-fly list while they are traveling abroad.

It should be determined how many cases of extrajudicial exile the FBI has engaged in; how many of these citizens were able to return home; how many remain abroad; and, what follow-up the FBI effected in such cases.

Congress should also work to ensure that national security and law enforcement agencies (such as the NCTC, TSC, FBI, DHS, CBP, ICE, and TSA) only place American citizens on the no-fly list if they pose an imminent or violent criminal threat to aviation security. 

Finally, Congress should take steps to ensure that Americans who have been charged with no crime can board a flight back to the United States.  

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