Rights groups stand with US Muslim mayor with name on government watchlist

Rights groups stand with US Muslim mayor with name on government watchlist
A US mayor is speaking out with widespread support after revelations that he is on a US government watch list.
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
03 May, 2023
Mayor Mohamed Khairullah speaks at a press conference about his name being on a US government watch list. [screenshot]

A mayor was headed from New Jersey to the White House to celebrate the joyous occasion of Eid al-Fitr. Instead, he was informed that he could not attend because his name is apparently on a US government watchlist.

Mohamed Khairullah of Prospect Park in New Jersey, one of the longest-serving Muslim mayors in the US, is seeing support from civil rights groups for this still unexplained move by the US government.

"I was a few minutes away from the White House when I got a call," he told reporters at a press conference hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and attended by other rights groups.

"Then he informed me that the Secret Service did not clear me to attend the White House Eid celebration. He went on to state that the Secret Service did not go on to provide a reason, and he pretty much told me that I should turn around and return home in uncertain terms," the mayor said, noting that the man on the phone apparently could not give further information, only informing him that he appears to be on a government watchlist.

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Khairullah went on to describe how he is not new to this situation. He has been stopped at the airport and at a land border crossing for hours at a time, separated from his children and phone, also without being given an explanation. 

This latest incident, he said, has made him question the progress for Muslims in the United States. He emphasised the discriminatory nature of the secret watchlist and the fact that it has been ruled illegal by a federal judge. 

"At this point, our crimes are our names, ethnicities and our religion," he said. "And I call on President Biden to correct the injustices of the previous administrations by disbanding this illegal list and correcting ill-advised and racist policies."

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The US government watchlist, a secret database started under former President George W. Bush, is estimated at around 1.5 million and is believed to be comprised of mainly Muslims. Among the names that have been on the list over the years are Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. 

But many people have been mistakenly added to the list, including those with the same names as suspected criminals. In other cases, the decision appears to be political. 

As of Tuesday evening, the day after the mayor learned he was on the watchlist, there has been no official response from the White House.

On 1 May, the same day as the White House Eid celebration in which Khairullah was uninvited, Biden tweeted, "Muslim culture has been woven throughout American culture from the very start. We must always stand against anti-Muslim hate. And stand up for the rights and dignity of all people. It's essential to who we are: a nation founded on the idea of freedom and justice for all."