ACLU sues over Dearborn man's inclusion on No Fly List

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Dearborn man who says he was wrongly put on the federal government's "No Fly" list, the group said Wednesday.

The U.S. government removed Ahmad Chebli from the list after the ACLU filed the lawsuit on Chebli's behalf in federal court.

 Chebli was put on the No Fly List in 2018 after he refused to become an FBI informant despite agents’ repeated coercive threats against him and his family, according to the ACLU.

“I’m relieved to be off the No Fly List, but still reeling from the government’s abusive use of the list against me and its violations of my constitutional rights,” Chebli said in a statement Wednesday.

“For over two years, I sought a fair process to clear my name, and the government failed to provide me with one," he said. "As a Muslim in this country, it can be easy to feel like a second-class citizen and be afraid to stand up for your rights because of the way our own government treats us.”

 Chebli, U.S. citizen of Lebanese descent, was unable to fulfill his religious pilgrimage obligations, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit was filed April 6 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the ACLU's national office, the ACLU of Michigan and the ACLU in the District of Columbia. The U.S. government responded to the lawsuit 10 days later, saying Chebli has “been removed from the No Fly List, and will not be placed back on the No Fly List based on currently available information.”

“Ahmad Chebli should have never been put on the No Fly List, and although we are now happy for him and his family, it shouldn’t have taken an ACLU lawsuit to get him removed,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. 

Shamsi added: "The federal agencies responsible for the No Fly List have done nothing to end or overhaul a system that the government can easily abuse while failing to provide a fair, meaningful, and timely process to challenge wrongful placement.”

The U.S. government began keeping the list in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terror attacks; its database is maintained by the FBI. The No Fly List indefinitely bars thousands of U.S. citizens and residents from flying to, from, within or over the United States and stigmatizes them as terror suspects, the ACLU said Wednesday.

People are placed on the No Fly List based on "vague" criteria, and U.S. citizens and residents on the list are disproportionately Muslim and those of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian heritage, the ACLU said.

The ACLU maintains the government uses the No Fly List to pressure people, especially Muslims, to become informants. The ACLU won a district court ruling in 2014, that found that the government’s administrative redress process for challenging placement on the No Fly List was unconstitutional.

In April 2015, the  government announced it would notify U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents whether they are on the list and possibly offer reasons. Chebli’s case, the ACLU said, illustrates that the federal government’s new redress process "falls far short"  of constitutional requirements because it still denies people "meaningful and timely due process."