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What to Do in Interactions with Law Enforcement
Flying While Muslim
What You Should Know About Informants
Mapping Muslims, co-authored by CLEAR, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC).
Stranded Abroad: Americans Stripped of Their Passports in Yemen, co-authored by CLEAR and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.
My Family Was in Shock: The Harm Caused by President Trump’s Executive Orders on Travel to the US, co-authored by CLEAR and Amnesty International.
Raza v. City of New York: Policing and Surveillance
For years, Muslim communities in New York suspected that they were being watched by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). After the Associated Press confirmed these suspicions, CLEAR organized with communities across New York to build a strategic response to the NYPD’s surveillance program. In addition to providing rights-awareness training in mosques, Muslim Student Associations, and community centers, students and attorneys in CLEAR worked with communities to develop an affirmative litigation strategy that would complement the documentation and advocacy work ultimately embodied in our Mapping Muslims report.
Alongside the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, CLEAR filed suit in federal court on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organization who were swept up in the NYPD’s dragnet. The courageous plaintiffs were all prior CLEAR clients or partners. The suit, Raza v. City of New York, sought systemic reforms to prevent law enforcement abuses. The case charged that the NYPD violated the U.S. and New York State Constitutions by singling out and stigmatizing entire communities of New Yorkers based on their religion.
Ultimately, a federal judge approved and ordered a number of revisions to the rules constraining NYPD surveillance as part of a settlement agreement in Raza. The court-ordered reforms include a robust anti-religious discrimination policy, time limits on investigations and higher thresholds for certain levels of investigation, a limitation on the use of undercover officers and informants, and the appointment of an outside civilian representative to ensure all safeguards are followed and enforced.
Since the settlement was implemented, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio appointed former federal judge Stephen R. Robinson as the first Civilian Representative. CLEAR has continued to participate in community organizing around the position of the Civilian Representative, including in community meetings with Judge Robinson.
In 2018, per the settlement agreement, the Civilian Representative released his first annual report. The report’s findings demonstrated the importance of the Civilian Representative position.
CLEAR continues to work and organize with partners to maximize the efficacy of the Civilian Representative’s role.
Tanvir v. Tanzin: The Federal No Fly List
CLEAR frequently represents individuals approached by law enforcement for questioning. Often, law enforcement is fishing for information on vulnerable communities, sometimes even asking Muslim New Yorkers to spy on their own communities.
Students and attorneys at CLEAR noted a pattern among at least four Muslim clients who refused to become FBI informants. Shortly after declining to spy, each of these men found themselves on the federal No Fly List. Federal agents placed or kept them on the list to coerce the men into spying on their communities.
CLEAR brought suit in federal court to challenge the FBI’s abuse of the No Fly List, partnering with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Our clients asked for removal from the No Fly List and for monetary damages from the agents who placed them on the list.
Days before the first major court appearance in the case, the government informed all four plaintiffs that they had been removed from the No-Fly List. The district court later granted the government’s motion to dismiss the remaining claims.
Our clients appealed the district court’s decision, insisting on redress for the harm they suffered by placement on the No Fly List. For years, the men were unable to see spouses, children, sick parents, and elderly grandparents who are overseas. They lost jobs, were stigmatized within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the district court’s opinion, reinstating our clients’ claims. The appeals court held that the men could seek money damages against individual FBI agents for violating their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
This ruling brought the plaintiffs one step closer to redress for the harms they suffered as a result of their placement on the No Fly List. It also marked the first time that the Second Circuit held that individuals who suffered religious discrimination at the hands of federal agents could seek money damages under RFRA, establishing an important accountability mechanism across affected communities and beyond.
Janfeshan v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Electronics Taken at the Border
CLEAR regularly represents individuals who face difficulties traveling that include profiling, discriminatory screening, aggressive questioning, and invasive searches—all significantly exacerbated by 21st century technological advances.
In one such case, CLEAR represented an American Muslim of Afghan origin who was returning home from visiting family abroad. On landing at JFK International Airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demanded the passcode to his smartphone. He refused, explaining that in addition to protecting his and his family’s privacy, his phone contained attorney-client communications. CBP seized his smartphone anyway, insisting that they would break past his passcode and conduct a forensic search of all of the data on his cellular phone, without any suspicion of criminal activity.
Shortly thereafter, CLEAR filed a lawsuit on his behalf in federal court, challenging CBP’s practice of seizing, searching, retaining and disseminating information from travelers’ electronic devices without individualized suspicion. CLEAR partnered on this matter with the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.
The court ruled in our client’s favor, upholding for the first time in this jurisdiction a Fourth Amendment challenge to CBP’s confiscation and search of a smartphone at the airport, as well as our claim under the Fifth Amendment of intentional discrimination on religious and national original grounds. The implications are vast, including for attorneys, journalists, and activists who routinely travel across borders with sensitive or privileged information on their devices.
In the wake of that victory, CBP amended its directive on searches of electronic devices, requiring for the first time individualized suspicion for invasive searches of electronics.
Countering Violent Extremism
In September 2014, the Department of Justice announced the launch of new pilot programs for Countering Violent Extremism (“CVE”). Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. described the pilot programs as an effort to “bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders, and United States Attorneys to improve local engagement; to counter violent extremism; and – ultimately – to build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe.” The program aims to involve religious leaders, school officials, healthcare providers, and community groups in efforts to detect and deter “violent extremism.” In response to requests by community organizations, CLEAR created a CVE Guidance for religious centers and community organizations.