The Muslim mayor who was turned away from an Eid reception at the White House on Monday said he believes it was due to racial profiling.
When asked by CNN whether racial profiling was a factor, Mohamed Khairullah, the mayor from Prospect Park, New Jersey, said “there’s no doubt in my mind that at this point, my crime is my race, my religion and my name.”
Khairullah told “CNN This Morning” Tuesday that he has not been given an explanation from the White House or United States Secret Service ahead of being denied entry into the Eid reception that marks the end of Ramadan.
“What are we going to do about the targeting of Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, by federal agencies that are basically not telling us why we are being harassed at airports, border crossings and now for me to be denied entry into the People’s House is baffling,” Khairullah said.
The New Jersey mayor was invited to the White House as part of a group of Muslim-American elected officials across the country who joined President Joe Biden for the East Room celebration.
Khairullah told CNN on Monday that he submitted his information to the White House Worker and Visitor Entry System two days before the event, but was only notified he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the White House a half hour before he was set to arrive. A staffer from the White House social office called Khairullah, but did not offer an explanation on the decision, he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow.
While the specific circumstances of Khairullah’s denial aren’t clear, the normal procedure for guests invited to the White House involves the submission of information to the Secret Service via WAVES. The Secret Service then runs that information through screening databases before final approval for access is granted.
USSS on Monday confirmed that Khairullah was turned away ahead of the Eid reception at the White House.
“While we regret any inconvenience this may have caused, the mayor was not allowed to enter the White House complex this evening,” USSS chief of communications told reporters in a statement later Monday evening. “Unfortunately we are not able to comment further on the specific protective means and methods used to conduct our security operations at the White House.”
While the Secret Service refused to publicly explain its reason for the denial, US government agencies typically rely on a host of integrated databases prior to granting individuals access to secure environments such as the White House. These range from criminal history record systems available to law enforcement agencies across the country, to secretive databases containing sensitive intelligence collection about terrorist groups.
One such system, known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, is described by the intelligence community as a “central classified repository for all known or suspected international terrorists and their networks of contacts and support” based on intelligence collected by the US government and its allies. Information contained within the classified TIDE system is typically used as the basis for populating the US government’s “no fly list,” and can be queried by agencies when running background searches on individuals seeking US visas or access to government facilities.
While not every individual listed in government terrorism databases poses an imminent threat – some may only have tangential connections to a suspected terrorist group – the USSS has wide latitude in making final determination about who can gain close access to the president.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday declined to explain why Khairullah was prevented from entering the White House, saying “this particular situation is under the purview of Secret Service, and so I will leave it to them to speak to directly.”
“What I will say more broadly is that – and I can say this, I was in the room – the President was very proud to welcome nearly 400 Muslim Americans to the White House to celebrate Eid yesterday,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “It was a meaningful event, an opportunity to celebrate along Muslim leaders from across the country who were here.”
The mayor told CNN he believes his problems started in 2019 as he returned to JFK International airport, where authorities asked if he met with terrorists while he was in Turkey, a line of questioning he said crossed the line.
Khairullah told CNN Monday that he’d previously been informed that his name was listed on a watch list leaked earlier this year.
“Why aren’t there checks and balances on these uncontrolled powers to put us on lists that are not admitted to and are essentially illegal and target Americans of certain backgrounds,” the mayor said Tuesday.
CNN has reached out to DHS and US Customs and Border Protection to independently verify Khairullah’s claims.
Asked by CNN whether he would return to the White House if invited, Kahirullah said he thinks he would accept it under the condition he would discuss “the secret list and the targeting of Muslims, South Asians, middle easterners and anybody.”
At a news conference scheduled for Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New Jersey chapter plans to call on the Biden administration to apologize to Khairullah and invite him to the White House, to meet with members of the Muslim community.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the name of the White House Worker and Visitor Entry System.