DHS

Secret Government Watchlist Sweeps Up an American Family, and Now They're Suing

Lack of due process or transparency keeps father from knowing why it happened or how to fix it.

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Wilwal and Abdigani
ACLU

A Somali family—immigrants who are now legally citizens of the United States—are suing several federal agencies over what appears to have been a particularly rough border detention and search. Their treatment, they say, stems from the government's secretive, unaccountable watchlists.

They family is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has spent years fighting to force a system of due process on the various watchlists that agencies use (and share among each other). Thanks to these lists, hundreds of thousands of people are subjected to increased and intrusive searches when traveling.

The lawsuit attacks two significant and well-established problems with these watchlists. One: Even though these lists supposedly exist to keep an eye on suspected terrorists, they contain hundreds of thousands of names of people with no known ties to terrorist organizations. Two: The system is handled secretly, with almost no oversight or due process. People who end up on the list often cannot find out why or even get the government to acknowledge that they're on a list; their only option is to ask to be taken off the list and hope it happens.

The plaintiffs are the Wilwal-Abdigani family, who in March 2015 traveled from their home near Minneapolis to visit relatives in Canada. According to the lawsuit, they had little trouble passing into Canada but were warned that that the father, Abdisalam Wilwal, had a notation on his records that might result in some additional questions when he attempted to return home.

That proved to be an understatement. According to the lawsuit, when the family tried to return to the United States, border agents confronted them at gunpoint and detained them for hours. The lawsuit says that the border patrol asked Wilwal if the travelers were Muslims and accused him of involvement in terrorism. They handcuffed Wilwal and left him alone in a room for hours without even questioning him. He ended up fainting, and they had to call in paramedics. They eventually questioned him for 45 minutes, though he was detained for more than 10 hours.

The other members of the family were detained separately and were not allowed to leave either. At one point the mother, Sagal Abdegani, realized the agents had neglected to take the cellphone away from one of her children and she managed to call 911 to try to get outside help. An agent snatched the phone away from her. According the lawsuit, border patrol agents also took the couple's 14-year-old son into a separate room and demanded he take off his clothes for a strip search. He refused to comply.

The family was released much later in the day and was allowed to return home. They know now that Wilwal's name is in a federal watchlist database, but they don't know why. They've petitioned the feds to have Wilwal's name removed, but per the federal government's processes, the Department of Homeland Security declined to confirm or deny whether Wilwal is actually watchlisted or whether they removed him from the list. The lawsuit notes, "At no point in the process can an individual appear in person before a neutral decision maker to challenge placement on the watchlist or its consequences."

The family is claiming violations of their Fourth Amendment rights, claiming unconstitutional searches and seizures as well as excessive force. They're also claiming violations of their Fifth Amendment rights to due process, because of the way these federal lists are managed and because of the barriers to clearing Wilwal's name.

For the Fourth Amendment claims, unfortunately, the courts have historically given federal officials very wide latitude to engage in warrantless searches with very little justification at the country's borders. But some important court rulings bolster's Wilwal due process complaint, and the ACLU knows it—because they're involved with some of those suits as well.

These lawsuits involve the federal no-fly list, a subset of these terror watchlists. People on the no-fly list are denied the right to board aircraft under a secretive, opaque system much like the one described in this lawsuit. In 2014 a federal judge ordered the Department of Justice to develop a system where people can determine whether they are actually on the no-fly list and a mechanism for correcting mistaken inclusion on the list. One woman turned out to have been added to the no-fly list by accident (somebody checked the wrong box); she had to fight the government for years to be removed. She only found out about the mistake as a result of the lawsuit.

Read the family's lawsuit here. Read the mother's own account of the border search here.

NEXT: UPDATED: Betsy DeVos Isn't "Enabling Rape Deniers" by Pushing for Due Process on College Campuses

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  1. Commentariat shitstorm in 3, 2…

  2. ” Even though these lists supposedly exist to keep an eye on suspected terrorists, they contain hundreds of thousands of names of people with no known ties to terrorist organizations”

    While I would not be surprised if this were true, how is it known if the lists and listing procedures are secret?

    1. Leaks. Click on the link in that part of the story and read previous coverage for an explanation.

      1. Click on the link in that part of the story and read previous coverage for an explanation.

        Please, nobody bothers reading the actual article we’re commenting on, now you expect us to read the supporting links too? Pffft, whatever. /sarc

      2. Tom doesn’t come here for the articles, Scott.

    2. Because although the Government loves ‘Double Secret Probation’ type arrangements, it also sucks balls at actually keeping secrets. Oh, it can obstruct legitimate attempts to unveil one process or another, but it almost always screws up enough to reveal hat it is breaking the law, AND failing to accomplish anything.

      Not just our government, now, BYW. All governments, EVER.

  3. Blame Trump.

    1. You can blame both Bush and Obama for this rule. We both know Trump has been too busy fighting everyone to accomplish anything.

  4. I didn’t know the Muslim ban was retroactively enforced.

    1. No, this is a leftover Obama secret government list program. Which is a leftover Bush secret government list program.

      1. What is dead can never die.

        1. Unfortunately, when it comes to government bullshit, what is alive is damn near impossible to kill.

        2. The little trashcan where we store our dog’s poo before trash day begs to differ.

        3. Did they pay the Iron Price though?

  5. “The family is claiming violations of their Fourth Amendment rights, claiming unconstitutional searches and seizures as well as excessive force. They’re also claiming violations of their Fifth Amendment rights to due process”

    These people come from some third world shithole and learn our constitution quick don’t they? Just be glad you’re here and don’t leave the country again.

    1. That actually took a little bit longer than i thought.

      1. I’m not sure how to take that comment.

        1. You’re more used to hearing it from your sexual partners, huh?

          1. You are referring to the post-coital crying, aren’t you.

            1. MJGreen just looks like a guy cursed with premature ejaculation, you know? I’m talking in-the-car-on-the-way-to-pick-up-his-date premature.

              1. Lucky guy, I always find that takes a lot of pressure off the date itself.

    2. Poe’s Law?

      1. Sadly it is good advice.

    3. guess I forgot the /sarc smiley face pile of smiling turd emoji at the end

      1. I have to hand it to you, that was impressive. For a second, I could actually see someone saying those exact words. In hindsight, I suppose the biggest tell was the part about “don’t leave the country again.” The kind of person you’re imitating would have said to leave the country and never come back.

        1. It was completely believable. Good show Mr. 7.

      2. That’s on me, man. There’s a bad Hihnfestation a couple threads over and it has got me all juiced up.

        1. Dang, I missed it.

          1. I wouldn’t say you’re missing anything. It’s still going on, though, if you want to mosey on over to the Online Harassment comments and see what it looks like when a total lack of self awareness rages against the dying of the light.

            1. Does he always hit on ENB when he posts in her articles? I’ve noticed he always kisses her ass when she posts. I think he’s trying to have sex with her.

              1. Mike Hihn hasn’t had an erection since the Eisenhower administration. The FIRST one, not the one you’re thinking of. He probably just mistakes ENB for his granddaughter, when in fact she’s his great great great great great granddaughter’s college roommate.

            2. see what it looks like when a total lack of self awareness rages against the dying of the light.

              +1 Poetry boner

  6. What really steams me is that, on their own showing, these Government Stooges cannot keep actual terrorists out even WITH these lists. It’s like the War On Drugs; if it actually appeared to work, some sort of argument might be made for it. But it doesn’t.

    1. Intentions. And it’s better than doing nothing.

      1. This is how politics works:

        Something must be done

        This is something

        This must therefore be done

      2. No, it isn’t. The War on Drugs costs the flipping Earth, erodes our Civil Liberties, and gives the Police delusions of being in THE UNTOUCHABLES (the TV show, not the film). Similarly, the security pantomime we have focuses attention on irrelevancies, distracts from policies that might actually help (like arming pilots), ALSO costs a lot, ALSO erodes our Civil Liberties, and drives communities of immigrants to distrust the people they might otherwise go to when they hear some idiot talking about Jihad.

        Oh, I doubt the ‘moderates’ would, but there might be SOME chance. With this kind of harassment rife, there is NO chance.

        And, yes, I did kind of hope you were living up to your handle, but there are too many imbeciles out there who BELIEVE what you posted.

    2. It is almost as if they are recruiting terrorists faster than we can put them on lists!

      1. They’re obviously recruiting terrorists, slapping a uniform and a badge on them and letting them go to town on innocent American citizens. I mean, why strap on a suicide vest and blow up a few infidels when you can terrorize hundreds of travelers on a daily basis and they give you a fat paycheck and a pat on the back for a job well done? What a country!

        1. As much as your comment was meant in a humorous/sarcastic mode, I wonder if there is, in fact, any of this going on. It’s akin to my theory that a sort of stealthy corporate espionage was going on at the company I worked at (where I suggested competitors were planting or paying-off executives to make intentionally bad decisions).

          Ultimately the purpose of terrorism is to undermine and destroy our society, and destroying it from within works just as well as from without.

    3. What they always claim is you can’t see the attacks they did stop because they didn’t happen. So everyday they are stopping millions of deaths and attacks, but we just can’t appreciate them.

    4. What they always claim is you can’t see the attacks they did stop because they didn’t happen. So everyday they are stopping millions of deaths and attacks, but we just can’t appreciate them.

      1. You want Terrorist attacks stopped? Lift the silly-ass restrictions of citizens owning pretty much any firearm they want, and carrying it pretty much anywhere they want. There may be Terrorist attacks, but they won’t last very long.

        But that would mean allowing the Citizens in Progressive/Liberal controlled areas to remember that the Government serves THEM, not the other way around. And that would be Just Awful.

  7. We need to implement a new legal policy; border guards and suchlike get to stop and interrogate anyone they want to, but if they can’t demonstrate to the satisfaction of a Judge that they have in fact caught a terrorist, they get strapped to a framework with their feet a minimum of four feet apart, and their victim gets to kick them in the fork until he gets tired.

    1. Just kick the fork out of him.

    2. cops need to have some skin in the game.

      1. Exactly. Cops and Prosecutors get away with entirely too goddamned much.

        And what really angers me is that movements like Black Lives Mutter seem to exist in some part to discredit themselves. They don’t hammer on clear cut cases, and adopt others where the ‘victim’ is a thug, and the Cop may have been justified.

        That gives the ‘Cops are all heroes’ contingent all the excuse they need to pretend that there IS no problem.

        So, once again, I come to a political issue where I consider BOTH SIDES to be riddled with pillocks.

        Which is why I self-identify as a Crank.

  8. B-b-but… TEH TERRIRISTS!!1!11111!!!!1!!!!!!

  9. According to the lawsuit, when the family tried to return to the United States, border agents confronted them at gunpoint and detained them for hours. The lawsuit says that the border patrol asked Wilwal if the travelers were Muslims and accused him of involvement in terrorism. They handcuffed Wilwal and left him alone in a room for hours without even questioning him. He ended up fainting, and they had to call in paramedics. They eventually questioned him for 45 minutes, though he was detained for more than 10 hours.

    The other members of the family were detained separately and were not allowed to leave either. At one point the mother, Sagal Abdegani, realized the agents had neglected to take the cellphone away from one of her children and she managed to call 911 to try to get outside help. An agent snatched the phone away from her. According the lawsuit, border patrol agents also took the couple’s 14-year-old son into a separate room and demanded he take off his clothes for a strip search. He refused to comply.

    And yet the San Bernadino shooter was able to fly to and from Pakistan with his mail order wife, the Tsarnaev brothers, IIRC, were able to travel to and from Chechnya… If I were a cynic I might conclude that all these rights violating security measures were completely ineffective and just there for show. Like some kind of Kabuki Theater or something…

  10. Remember, Democrats wanted your presence on these secret lists to bar you from owning firearms. And the press was quite adamant that such an idea was a no-brainer.

    1. The Press is populated largely be morons who aren’t fit to shine the shoes of great reporters like H. L. Mencken. Mencken lived in a day when it was simply assumed that newspapers were biased, and everybody with any sense adjusted accordingly.

      1. And his career effectively died when he was critical of FDR.

        They’ve been protecting their leftie icons for a long, long time.

  11. They look all-american to me. I bet they’ve been voting libertarian for years. Is this the same guy?
    http://www.mugshotsonline.com/…../105930581

  12. This sounds more like the way the Stasi worked in the DDR – get everyone reporting on everyone else.

    Of course, we’re trying to “improve” on this.

  13. Boy, I bet these folks really wish they had stayed in the Libertopia of Somalia huh? /sarc

    I hope these folks win their suit though, in all seriousness. Secret watch lists and their ilk are decidedly bad for a free society. This type of madness is without a doubt a violation of their rights.

    1. All these lists have got to go: Sexual registry, gun purchase registry, no fly list, harassment at border list….

      If you don’t have probable cause to arrest someone for a crime, then detaining them is unconstitutional [period]

  14. The people they’d want to keep out are those who’d lie in A to their Qs anyway, so why bother?

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