Dearborn businessman sues feds over ‘watch list’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

An Arab-American businessman from Dearborn is suing federal officials over his alleged inclusion on a government “watch list” he said violated his constitutional rights.

“We’re just fighting for our God-given rights that the constitution guarantees us … and to make sure government doesn’t become obtrusive and denies the rights of people without giving them the due process,” said Nasser Beydoun, a Muslim and former chairman and director of Arab American Chamber of Commerce.

According to the complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Beydoun has been listed on a “selectee list” under the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. That means he was “selected for secondary and additional screening at different domestic airports in the United States, and subjected to unwarranted and excessive delays at airports,” the document read.

The suit names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI director James Comey and TSC director Christopher Piehota as defendants. It seeks to have Beydoun removed from the list and the practices declared unconstitutional.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.

While Beydoun has been allowed to board flights, he “has been permitted to do so only after long, exhaustive screening, and secondary screenings,” apparently due to the list, according to the lawsuit.

“It puts an undue burden on somebody who never committed a crime,” said Beydoun, 49, who travels several times a month.

The lawsuit said government officials have been unable or unwilling to explain why Beydoun is on the list or how he can be removed. Beydoun filed three complaints with the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, but the matter was not resolved.

The extra screenings began in early 2012, Beydoun said. Less than six months earlier, he had returned to the U.S. after two years as an “economic hostage” in Qatar.

Beydoun said he was prevented from leaving that country after a dispute with his former employer, part of a Qatari investment group he joined to open restaurants across the Middle East. He filed a labor suit over money owed and honoring a contract; the company filed a civil lawsuit, he said.

“If I was vindicated and proved myself innocent in Qatar, why would the U.S. government put me on a watch list?” Beydoun said.

His lawsuit comes as alleged government scrutiny of Arab-Americans and Muslims has drawn more attention.

In August, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter said it had filed a federal lawsuit based on complaints the government unjustly put a disproportionate number of Muslim-Americans on the nation’s “terror watch” list.

A week earlier, an online magazine posted secret documents from the National Counterterrorism Center’s Directorate of Terrorist Identities suggesting Dearborn is second only to New York among U.S. cities having the most people suspected of links to terrorism. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade as well as local Muslims and Arab-Americans requested a congressional hearing on the report, which they criticized as inaccurate.

Beydoun said he pursued legal action to prevent more targeting and to inspire those who believe they faced the same practices yet lacked the resources to fight back.

“This happens to a lot of people,” he said Friday. “Someone needs to take the torch on this and run with it.”