Returning from a visit to Canada, an American Muslim family was detained at the North Dakota border for more than 10 hours after border patrol agents noticed that the father’s name appeared on a terrorism watch list.
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it is suing the government on behalf of Abdisalam Wilwal, accusing federal agents of using terror watch lists to “abuse” the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
The lawsuit demands that the government remove Wilwal’s name from the list and promise not to harass him in the future.
“The government has refused to tell Mr. Wilwal why his name appeared on the watch list, and it has not provided him with a meaningful opportunity to correct or challenge whatever error led to his placement on it,” the family says in the lawsuit. “In any event, the government’s placement of Mr. Wilwal on the watch list cannot justify the officers’ abuse of him and his family at the border.”
Driving back into the U.S. after visiting Canadian relatives, the family attempted to cross the border in North Dakota. After running their names through databases, agents approached their van with guns drawn, according to the lawsuit.
Wilwal was handcuffed, separated from his wife and four children and questioned for hours until he passed out.
Accused by a Customs and Border Protection officer of being involved with terrorism, he was only told, “We have information,” when Wilwal asked why.
A subsequent investigative report obtained through an open-records request said Wilwal was detained because of “a confirmed subject record hit.”
A U.S. citizen from Somalia, Wilwal stated in the lawsuit that he has no idea why his name would be in the database. He noted that while he is Muslim, he isn’t observant and doesn’t regularly attend a mosque.
The ACLU is targeting the government’s watch list system, which according to the complaint lets federal agents list anyone based on anything from a social media post to an anonymous tip.
However, Wilwal and his family say that they cannot think of anything he could have done to warrant his being put on the list.
“At no point in the process can an individual appear in person before a neutral decision maker to challenge placement on the watch list or its consequences,” the lawsuit says.
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