Muslim mayor blocked from White House denounces ‘watch list’

A New Jersey mayor who was prevented from attending a celebration at the White House this week with President Joe Biden to mark the belated end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan called Tuesday for the administration to end the “list of federal surveillance” that he says illegally targets Muslims. and others.

During a press conference Tuesday in South Plainfield by the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah and several other speakers condemned the list as illegal, discriminatory and unconstitutional. They also called on the US Secret Service and other federal agencies to stop using and distributing the list, which the group says has more than 1.5 million names, most of which “sound Arab or Muslim.” “.

CAIR has called on the Biden administration to cease the FBI’s release of information from what is known as a terrorist detection dataset that includes hundreds of thousands of people. The group informed Khairullah that a person with his name and date of birth was in a data set that CAIR lawyers obtained in 2019.

Shortly before arriving at the White House for the Eid-al-Fitr celebration on Monday, Khairullah said he received a call from the White House telling him that the Secret Service had not cleared him for entry and that he could not attend the ceremony. celebration where Biden delivered remarks to hundreds of guests.

Khairullah said on Tuesday that he has no idea why his information is on the list and that no one in the federal government will tell him, adding that “there is no reason to believe that I am an insecure person.” Khairullah noted that he has been detained several times and interrogated while he was traveling, experiences that he called “humiliating.”

“I’m not upset that I’m not in the White House,” said Khairullah, who was elected to a fifth term as mayor of his city in January. “I am interested in human rights. I have a platform to address this issue, but about 1.5 million people don’t… an incident like this makes me question the progress I thought we’d made.”

Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the CAIR chapter, said there is no transparency about how or why people are added or removed from the list, and there is no remedy people can seek to have their names removed.

“Two decades after 9/11, we continue to see the damage of watch lists. We continue to see him cause hardship for American Muslims and Americans in general, violating their civil rights,” Maksut said.

A Secret Service spokesman confirmed that Khairullah was not allowed into the White House complex, but declined to say why. The White House also declined to comment.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, New Jersey’s two US Senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, both Democrats, and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat who represents the district where Khairullah lives, announced that they have formally requested the Secret Service and the Biden administration for an explanation of why the mayor was prevented from attending. The trio also asked that he be notified of the “substantive reasons he was denied admission” and that his status be reviewed so that he can attend such events in the future.

Khairullah was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s travel ban limiting entry to the US by citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries. He has also traveled to Bangladesh and Syria to do humanitarian work with the Syrian American Medical Society and the Watan Foundation.

Khairullah said authorities detained him in 2019 and questioned him at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for three hours, asking if he knew any terrorists. The incident occurred when he was returning to the United States after a family visit to Turkey, where his wife has family.

On another occasion, he said he was briefly held up at the US-Canada border while traveling back to the country with his family.

CAIR said Khairullah helped the New Jersey Democratic Party collect names of local Muslim leaders to invite to the White House Eid celebration and was invited to an event at the New Jersey governor’s mansion over the weekend.

Khairullah was born in Syria, but her family was displaced amid the crackdown by the Hafez al-Assad government in the early 1980s. Her family fled to Saudi Arabia before moving to Prospect Park in 1991. She has lived there ever since.

He became a US citizen in 2000 and was elected to his first term as the city’s mayor in 2001. He also spent 14 years as a volunteer firefighter in his community.

Khairullah said he made seven trips to Syria with aid organizations between 2012 and 2015 as civil war devastated much of the country.

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