The quickest way between two points is a straight line — unless, of course, you're on the no-fly list.
In the case of Irvine resident Stephen Persaud, who believes he's wrongly listed on the U.S. government's anti-terrorism docket, the quickest way home from the Virgin Islands was a boat to Miami and then three train rides.
Persaud, a nurse, is one of 16 plaintiffs listed in an amended civil complaint filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union that claims the U.S. government gives little redress or explanation for why some people are on the list that bars them from flying over or to the United States.
On May 11, 2010, Persaud, his pregnant wife and their 16-month-old son went to the airport to fly home to Irvine so his wife could give birth to their second son, according to the complaint.
Persaud was studying to become a nurse and visiting family in St. Thomas before his return to the continental U.S.
But upon trying to print their boarding passes, an error screen popped up, and the couple was quickly surrounded by five questioning U.S. government officials.
His wife was allowed to go home with their first son, but in order for Persaud to get home, he had to buy passage on a Carnival cruise headed to Miami, according to the complaint.
On the ship, an FBI agent approached Persaud and told him he needed to cooperate with the FBI or else him getting a job or gaining admission to graduate school could be complicated, the lawsuit asserts.
After Persaud arrived in Miami five days later, the agent allegedly followed him onto a train headed toWashington, D.C., and said Persaud should help the FBI identify people flying to Somalia or those interested in becoming terrorists because he taught English there in 2006, according to the complaint.
Persaud told the agent he didn't associate with such people.
Two train rides and 30 days after his wife and son's flight from the Virgin Islands, Persaud arrived in Irvine. His second son was born 20 days later.
The lawsuit is an effort to remove Persaud's name and those of his fellow defendants from the no-fly list, but it has possible implications for the government revealing who is on the list and the criteria there is for including people on it, said ACLU staff attorney Nusrat J. Choundhury.
The lawsuit also requests that the government pay for all litigation expenses.
Persaud's inclusion on the list prevents him from making the Hajj pilgrimage — a Muslim rite — to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Choundhury said.
About 20,000 noncitizens and 500 citizens are on the list — it's a number that fluctuates depending on the threat level, said the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center spokesman Trent Duffy.
There are four specific criteria that get people on the list, including posing a threat to the aircraft or its occupants, Duffy said. He added that the names on the list are not disclosed because terrorists are known to change their identities.
The next scheduled hearing in the case is May 11 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Ore.
Persaud could not be reached directly for comment. His attorney did not know his ethnic background, which can play a role in airport screenings.
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