NEW YORK — The U.S. government removed Ahmad Chebli, a Michigan father, from the No Fly List after the ACLU filed a lawsuit on his behalf challenging his wrongful placement on the list. Mr. Chebli was placed 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.
“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,” said Mr. Chebli. “I was placed on the list after I refused to become an FBI informant despite frightening and intimidating threats against me and my family. For over two years, I sought a fair process to clear my name, and the government failed to provide me with one. 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. But now I feel vindicated and want my story to encourage others to stand up for their rights, because when we do, good things can happen.”
The lawsuit explained that Mr. Chebli repeatedly sought to be removed from the No Fly List for more than two years, and that the government failed to provide him with a fair and timely process to challenge the indefinite flying ban, in violation of the Constitution and federal law. The indefinite flying ban also prevented Mr. Chebli from traveling to fulfill his religious pilgrimage obligation, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The lawsuit was filed on April 6 by the ACLU, the ACLU of the District of Columbia, and the ACLU of Michigan. Ten days later, the government responded to Mr. Chebli’s years-old petition for administrative redress, stating that Mr. 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. “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 fact remains that the government’s criteria for placing people on the No Fly List are unconstitutionally vague, and its process for people to seek removal violates the Constitution’s due process guarantee.”
For nearly two decades, the U.S. government has operated a No Fly List that indefinitely bars thousands of U.S. citizens and residents from flying to, from, within, or over the United States, and stigmatizes them as terrorism suspects. The government places people on the No Fly List based on vague criteria, and U.S. citizens and residents on the No Fly List are disproportionately Muslim and those of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian heritage. In recent years, the government’s use of the No Fly List to pressure people, particularly Muslims, to become informants has come under increasing scrutiny and challenge.
In 2014, the ACLU won a district court ruling finding that the government’s administrative redress process for challenging placement on the No Fly List was unconstitutional. As a result, the government announced in April 2015 that it would tell U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents whether they are on the list and possibly offer reasons. However, as Mr. Chebli’s case illustrates, the government’s new redress process falls far short of constitutional requirements because it still denies people meaningful and timely due process.
A blog post detailing Mr. Chebli’s story is here: https://www.aclu.org/news/national-security/i-refused-to-become-an-fbi-informant-and-the-government-put-me-on-the-no-fly-list/
More information about the case is here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-files-lawsuit-behalf-michigan-father-wrongly-placed-no-fly-list