Freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib said publicly in 2012 that her sister was on the "no-fly list," lamenting at the time that as a state representative in Michigan, she couldn’t get her off it.
Now that she's a member of Congress -- and a high-profile one at that, especially after the former lawyer made headlines with a profanity-laced call to impeach President Trump -- it remains unclear if the status of Tlaib’s younger sister has changed.
For a sitting member of Congress to have a family member on the secretive and at-times controversial list, which bars individuals from boarding a commercial aircraft on the grounds of national security, would be rare.
The FBI could not confirm or deny her or anybody's presence on the list. If she was or is on the list, it's unclear whether she was the victim of a case of mistaken identity, or if there was a deeper reason. Tlaib's office and sister did not comment for this report -- apart from Tlaib criticizing “right-wing media” on Twitter after Fox News inquired about the status.
But Tlaib herself revealed her sister's presence on the list, and suggested she was wrongly included on it, in an obscure 2012 address to the Universal Academy's Student Government, as she discussed her path to politics. Her speech turned toward post-9/11 surveillance programs.
“Obviously you know about the no-fly list, my sister is on the no-fly list,” Tlaib told the students. “I have no idea how as a state rep ... I can't get her off the no-fly list.”
“My sister Layla is only about 19 years old, she's the kindest person you have ever met. I don't understand why she's on the list, it doesn't make sense,” she added.
Tlaib, who is taking a seat on the high-profile House Oversight Committee, would now be in a position to at least call for a review into what she has deemed “unconstitutional” government screening programs.
The list, which has come under criticism in the past, is maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. A spokesperson for the FBI said the agency can “neither confirm nor deny whether any individual may be included in the TSDB, or the No Fly List, because watchlist status is derived from classified intelligence and/or sensitive law enforcement information.”
The official added that “before the Terrorist Screening Center places an individual on the No Fly List, there must be credible information demonstrating that the individual presents a threat of committing an act of terrorism with respect to an aircraft, the homeland, U.S. facilities or interests abroad, or is a threat of engaging in or conducting a violent act of terrorism and is operationally capable of doing so.”
Fox News attempted to contact Tlaib's sister, Layla Elabed, to ask for additional information and context, including whether she’s still on the list and what could have prompted the government to designate her, at least at that time, as a potential threat.
The inquiries were forwarded to Tlaib’s communications director Denzel McCampbell, who said he was “looking into this” but ultimately declined to comment after repeated requests.
Tlaib instead attacked “right-wing media” on Twitter over the inquiries stemming from her 2012 comments. She said her sister had to deal with extra screening for years -- though did not say she was barred from flying, or specifically reference the no-fly list or her status in the system.
“Right wing media is now targeting my little sister Layla. She's the mother of 3, a published writer & poet, and is a sexual assault advocate for survivors like herself. For years she was forced to go through extra screening at the airport b/c of unconstitutional processes targeting [People of Color],” she tweeted. She went on to accuse media of harassing her sister on a "daily basis."
Back in 2012, Tlaib strongly implied her sister was wrongly included in the list -- indeed, it has come under scrutiny before from various civil rights groups that criticized the database over a lack of transparency and due process for those included.
The list’s credibility has taken a hit over the years, for ensnaring high-profile people like longtime civil-rights figure and Rep. John Lewis and the singer Cat Stevens -- even an 18-month-old baby was put on a list due to a case of mistaken identity.
It's unclear whether that was the case with Tlaib's sister.
David Inserra, a policy analyst for homeland security and cyber policy for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Fox News that even though the system has its problems, listings should not be dismissed.
He noted that while the exact criteria to be placed on the no-fly or the selectee list, which allows those flying commercially to be subject to additional questioning, hasn’t been publicly disclosed.
“So it’s not that we know that you’re a terrorist – we reasonably suspect you, but it’s higher than reasonably suspect. I don’t know what the higher standard is because the government never said,” he said, speaking generally about the list.
Inserra also said “less than 10 percent” of those in the general Terrorist Screening Database are placed on the no-fly list.
“To be on that list is not something good, it’s something that should concern people,” he said, while adding there are avenues for individuals on the list to appeal the government and ask for the removal of their names.
The Department of Homeland Security launched Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) in 2007, allowing individuals who believe they were placed on the list incorrectly to ask the government to look into their cases and remove them from the list in the event of an error.