Immediately following September 11th, a number of immigrants were arrested and held in detention in the United States for minor visa violations and other unreported alleged offences. Did the arrest and detention of an undisclosed number of people for unspecified charges not constitute an infraction of US law? Can the current administration not be forced to divulge the names, charges, and number of people so arrested?
Immediately after September 11th, Ashcroft announced that they had started rounding up suspected "terrorists." These men were all Arab, Muslim and South Asian with minor immigration violations such as overstaying a student visa, or working on a tourist visa. Many of them had children who were American citizens, some were married to American citizens. Many of them had disappeared through the cracks at the INS and had just overstayed their visas, while still others had pending applications for adjustment of status at the INS. They were not here for purposes of terrorism. None of them have been charged with any crimes.
To make matters worse, the Department of Justice refused to disclose the names of those detained, and closed immigration "9-11 related cases" so we were not able to sit in on immigration hearings to find out what was happening. You can imagine: the government on one side, and a lone man, who may not speak English well, who may not understand the legal process, sitting alone on the other side. There have also been no witnesses and no information on what is happening available to the public.
We filed a couple of lawsuits (Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft and North Jersey Media Group, Inc. and New Jersey Law Journal v. Ashcroft) to try to get access to these hearings and we are still fighting hard to open up the court system and preserve our open democracy.
To view the details of these lawsuits see the ACLU website.
You gestured at this earlier as well, but does the current administration's policy of racial profiling not constitute a violation of the US Constitution?
We believe, under the US Constitution, that everybody is due equal protection under the law. We feel that part of equal protection is also the right not to be looked at or treated differently by law enforcement officers because of your race or ethnic background. The government has no business solving criminal investigations through racial or religious profiling. It is not right when the person is African-American or Latino, and it is not right when the person is Arab, Muslim or South Asian. It is racist to say that being Arab, Muslim or South Asian makes one criminally suspect. Nobody looked at white men with crew cuts differently after Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma, and they should certainly not do so in this instance either.
Can you tell me a little bit about the ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling? When was this started, and what kind of work do they do?
At the ACLU, we believe that law enforcement should not be in the business of using race, ethnicity or religion as a proxy for criminal behavior. Before September 11th, we dealt with more traditional types of racial profiling against African Americans and Latinos. We fought against people being stopped on the highways because of their race. We were achieving great success in communicating the message that racial profiling was not a good crime-solving technique (using race as a proxy for criminal activity).
Then after 9/11, while the government said one thing, their actions clearly contradicted their speech. The government said we support our Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans and neighbors; they are our friends and family, you should extend the hand of friendship to them, not hatred. But government actions have done nothing to support that view; instead they have harassed this population.
Since September 11th we've been working quite hard, not only to fight this fight in the courts, but to educate the American public and to provide community support against the backlash. People are angry, not only about what is happening to Arabs, Muslims and South Asians in this country, but about the destruction of our vital civil liberties -- rights that affect us all. The ACLU has hired five national organizers who are working with communities to pass local resolutions in city councils and municipalities in support of civil liberties. Over 80 communities have passed resolutions opposing the Patriot Act and the number is growing daily.
Click here for more information and to see the communities that have passed such resolutions.