Profiled and Persecuted

How the U.S. government is terrorizing immigrants from 20 Arab and Muslim countries

Revolutionary Worker #1182, January 12, 2002, posted at

"One day he's an (information technology) professional with a briefcase, the next he's in shackles at the INS office."

Judy Shum, wife of Faramarz Farahani, an Iranian immigrant who works at Silicon Valley Company ( San Francisco Chronicle )

"These people came to the INS centers voluntarily. They are not flight risks. They were led to believe it was routine registration, and now this is the biggest trap I have ever seen."

Sohelia Jonoubi, attorney representing some of those detained by the INS

"My cousin is 45. He's been there for 48 hours. He went in on Monday to sign up. He's here legally. He took all his papers. He was in line from 5:00 in the morning. Finally about 6:00 it was his turn to do the interview. The interview took about 45 minutes. They took him upstairs and detained him. His wife, my cousin, came home and we heard from him about 11:00 at night. He said, `There's about 500 of us in the room, but we don't know what's going to happen.'

"The next day he called, `We're still here. We haven't had anything to eat. We had one boiled egg and a piece of bread. No sleeping. The air conditioners are on. Everybody is tired. Nobody can sit down or lay down.' Finally last night he called and they had set a bail of $1,500 for him. My cousin has been in the line since 4:00 this morning to post the bail. She stood in two lines, and they're still not home."

An Iranian woman telling the RW
about her cousin in southern California

In November 2002, hundreds of immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries were arrested and detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Sevice (INS) after they voluntarily reported to INS facilities around the country to comply with a "special registration" program ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft. The program required male non-citizens over 16 who were born in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya and who do not have permanent resident (Green Card) status to be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned by December 16.

In southern California, which has the largest Iranian-American population in the U.S., arrests were particularly heavy. Iranian-American lawyers estimate as many as 700 arrests in Los Angeles and 200 in Santa Ana. In the SF-Bay Area, New York and in other parts of the country, immigrants were also detained on a smaller scale.

In Los Angeles, the INS ran out of plastic handcuffs, filled their lock-ups and then shipped prisoners to outlying detention centers--to Lancaster in the Mojave Desert, to federal lockups in Arizona, to INS camps at the U.S.-Mexico border. This made it impossible for lawyers or family members to contact them, or even know where they were. And the INS refused to release the names and any information on the number of detentions or the circumstances under which immigrants were detained.

Immigrants from 13 additional countries--Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen--have been ordered to register by January 10, 2003. Immigrants from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been told to report by February 21.

Stories of the Detained

`'We were treated like animals in Iran and all I want is for my kids to grow up and say they're proud to be Americans. But until the day I die, I'm going to be a foreigner in this country, because of the way I look and my accent.''

An Iranian Jewish man who was detained in Los Angeles
after reporting for registration

The detentions were brutal and humiliating. Attorney Soheila Jonoubi said he saw a 16- year-old pulled from the arms of his crying mother. "His mother is six and a half months pregnant. They told the mother he is never going to come home-- she is losing her mind." Jonoubi said the mother has permanent residence status and that her husband, the boy's stepfather, is a U.S. citizen. The teenager came to the country in July on a student visa and was on track to gain permanent residence.

Bijan Pirazdeh, born in Iran, went to INS headquarters in downtown L.A. at 5 a.m. on December 16, expecting to fill out some routine paperwork and go to work a few blocks away. Pirazdeh, 43, is a Caltrans engineer who had worked for the state for more than two years. A resident of California since 1995, he had fled Iran in the mid-1980s after being jailed for three years on political offenses and was granted political asylum in Norway before coming to the U.S. He had an interview scheduled for February 7 to obtain permanent resident status. On December 16 he was sent to jail for five days and is now threatened with deportation.

Mohammad Fallahi, a Fresno car salesman, came to the U.S. on a student visa in 1974 when he was 17 years old, stayed in the U.S. on a series of temporary work permits and had applied for permanent residency. His brother Allen says Mohammad reported to the INS offices in Fresno "believing that everything was all right and that there was no problem." But Mohammad was arrested and shipped to the Bakersfield jail and kept in solitary confinement in his cell for all but one hour a day.

Ramsin Ziazadeh, a 30-year-old electrical engineer for National Semiconductor in Silicon Valley, found out about the special registration program on the Internet--two days after the deadline. When he tried to register he was arrested put in shackles and flown to an immigration detention center in San Diego, where several hundred men were already packed into jail cells.

Farhan Memon, who works for a San Francisco law firm representing some of the detainees, told the San Francisco Chronicle about the inhumane conditions in the San Diego holding center. Memon visited the men who were jammed into a small cell without beds or chairs, rationed two squares of toilet paper, and given little food. Memon said. "It was so cold, like 50 degrees in there, and they could get a long-sleeved shirt, but they had to buy it."

Iranian-American lawyer Sohelia Jonoubi told Reuters, "The situation in the detention centers is absolutely horrifying. In one center, they were ordered to strip down and given a strip search. They were only given a prison jumpsuit, without any underwear, T-shirts, socks or shoes. They were not given blankets. They are freezing."

Shawn Sedaghat, a Sherman Oaks attorney, and his partner, Michelle Taheripour, represent more than 40 people who voluntarily went to register and were detained. Sedaghat reported that the detainees were hosed down with cold water and then left to sleep on concrete floors.

Some detained immigrants were transported around the country for no apparent reason other than to make it difficult for them to speak with their family and attorneys. One attorney said his client was transported in shackles from California to Arizona to Chicago, then back to Arizona, then to Bakersfield, then to San Diego. The INS then claimed they could not locate the man and that he was "lost in the system."

After days of such brutal treatment most of those detained were released. According to the INS only 20 immigrants remain in custody. Many of those detained had to pay bail of up to $5,000 to secure their release. In Iranian and Arab communities, people raised money for those who couldn't post bail themselves. Those detained now face immigration hearings and possible deportation.

The INS claims that all of those detained had expired visas or were otherwise in violation of U.S. immigration law. But this is a lie.

The majority of those detained had filed for a Green Card under an immigration law adopted in the 1990s and reauthorized in 2000. Under this process (known as 245i) immigrants who have overstayed their visas can have their status regularized by paying a fine and going through a hearing so long as they have family ties in the United States, a job or job offer and a clean record. Immigrants with this status are allowed to stay in the U.S. pending their hearing--which can take years because of an INS backlog.

New Mass Registration Law

"In light of the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 and subsequent events, and based on information available to the Attorney General, the Attorney General has determined that certain nonimmigrant aliens require closer monitoring..."

From the official registration notice

"We are Americans who have chosen to live here. Suddenly, we are foreigners in this country. We have done nothing wrong, and now we have to register with the government."

Shaukat Sindhu, president of the Chicago-based
Pakistani American Association of North America

This mass registration of immigrants is part of the second phase of the so-called "National Security Entry-Exit Registration System" (NSEERS). The first phase of Special Registration, initiated on the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, required people entering the U.S. from certain countries to be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed under oath when entering the U.S.

The mass registration allows the INS to compile a database of immigrants that can track people's whereabouts and immigration status and be integrated with the FBI criminal database. Those who fail to register face criminal prosecution and deportation.

In addition to registration these targeted immigrants are required to report back yearly to the INS, report any change of address, change in employment or school, and if leaving the U.S. "must appear in person before an INS inspecting officer at one of the designated ports and leave the United States from that port on the same day."

In the "interviews" immigrants are asked to give their parents' names and addresses, the names and addresses of their American contacts, their e-mail address, and a form of identification other than their passport and immigration documents. They are also asked how they arrived in the United States and when, as well as whether they have any connection to "terrorist organizations." They are also asked about their religious affiliations, what mosque they attend and questions about any political affiliations they might have. The interview process can take over one hour. People are also digitally photographed and fingerprinted--and the photo and prints are then immediately run against various criminal and immigration service databases.

Lawyers who have sat in on the proceedings said they found them chilling. "When you're in this room and everybody around you is a Middle Eastern man, it really sinks in,'' said Jacqueline Baronian, an immigration lawyer in New York. "It looks like people are being rounded up, and it's very, very disturbing.''

Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project fears the wave of arrests is "a prelude to much more widespread arrests and deportations."

Such fears are well justified. Anyone familiar with the round-up of Jews by the Nazis or the internment of Japanese Americans by the U.S. knows that registration and the compiling of lists was a crucial part of paving the way for mass internment. (See sidebar, "Frightening Similarities.")

"We Are Outraged"

"We have rights, and we will not go away simply because we are not citizens. We are outraged at what is going on."

Tareef Nashashibi, president of the
Arab- American Republican Club of Orange County

"This new McCarthyism against Muslims must end. Are you going to deport us all?"

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the
Council on America-Islamic Relations of Southern California

As news spread of the detentions in Los Angeles, Farsi-language radio station KIRN-AM (670) canceled its regular programming to focus on the registration. The station took calls from immigrants who were incarcerated by the INS and their families and became a forum for people to voice outrage at the detentions. Pacifica radio, KPFK, devoted time on several broadcasts a day to let people know what was going on.

People told details of the government interrogations, how they were asked outrageous questions like, "Have you ever done anything immoral in your life?"

Ban Al-Wardi, an Iraqi-American immigration attorney, said, "I've had clients that were asked to provide documents such as their bank statements, their ATM cards, their Blockbuster video cards. With all the talk now of surveillance of video check-outs, stuff from libraries, it could be a way to trace these people's activities. Even if this information is not used to trace these activities, it could be used to scare these people into thinking they're being watched, as to what movies they're checking out from Blockbuster or what withdrawals they're making from their bank accounts."

KIRN played a major roll in organizing a demonstration by 3,000 Iranians outside the Los Angeles Federal Building on December 18. Some carried signs reading, "What's Next, Concentration Camps?" The demonstration broke through the media silence about the registration and made national and international news.

In response to the demonstration, the Department of Justice dispatched a federal mediator to meet with representatives of the Iranian community. According to the Los Angeles Weekly the mediator praised the Iranian community for complying with the registration but warned community representatives against any further demonstrations.

Stephen Thom, the representative from the Department of Justice, threatened, "I think we need to look at what is the impact of open, glaring challenges to our system."

On December 24 a class action lawsuit was filed in Federal Court, challenging the registration. The suit was filed by attorneys for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Alliance of Iranian Americans (AIA), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the National Council of Pakistani Americans (NCPA). Attorneys from the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and the Asian Law Caucus also assisted in the preparation of the legal brief. Six individuals detained as a result of the new INS policy of special registrations are co-plaintiffs, and represent a broader group of victims. The groups are seeking to stop the next registration deadline on January 10.

In response to the lawsuit, Justice Department lawyers argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out because the court lacks jurisdiction to review INS decisions regarding detentions. That power is reserved for the U.S. Supreme Court according to the government attorneys. This in itself is an outrage. The government wants to have the right to detain people who have committed no crime in humiliating and brutal conditions and then says that those detained have little or no right to challenge their detention in court.

On December 23, demonstrators gathered in front of the San Francisco INS office to protest the registration and detentions. Tanya Mayo, an organizer with Not In Our Name (NION), said, "We will not be caught off guard when the next registration deadline expires on January 10. We will be in the streets showing solidarity with our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters."

Many groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Immigration Attorneys, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Iranian-American Bar Association, Japanese American Citizens League and Not in Our Name, have issued statements and press releases denouncing the registration.

A community meeting on December 20 in Orange County drew 600 people from 20 different organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, People for the American Way, Christians and Muslims for Peace, the L.A. County Bar Association, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in L.A. (CHIRLA). Others, including the Japanese- American Citizens League, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Sweatshop Watch, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), South Asian Network, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Asian Pacific Legal Center, have protested the roundups.

A protest was held on January 4 at the INS office in downtown L.A., sponsored by the American- Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Alliance of Iranian Americans, CAIR and the National Council of Pakistani Americans. Other groups are organizing volunteer lawyers to accompany immigrants to the interviews.

Protests are planned nationwide at INS offices to coincide with the January 10 registration deadline. In New York a coalition of 40 community, religious and political organizations is planning a demonstration on January 10. In the San Francisco Bay Area a coalition is calling for a week of actions from January 6 to January 10. And demonstrations are also planned for January 10 in Chicago and Los Angeles, and for January 13 in Seattle. The South Asian Network has called for an immigrants' rights contingent at the Say No to War march in L.A. on January 11.

"Let Our People Go"

"We believe it was designed to actually discourage further cooperation from the community with the government, thus ultimately giving the government wider latitude in its ongoing trampling of constitutional and civil rights. Henceforth, when thousands of people don't cooperate in any given initiative out of well-founded fear and mistrust of the Bush-Ashcroft regime, detention camps can be set up all over the country.

"The fact is that the government is only interested in instilling terror in the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. Why? The coming firestorm in the Middle East. Conducting the Bush Administration's brand of foreign policy can be difficult with a nation of immigrants looking on, so shutting those immigrants up is mandatory. If our foreign policy were just, of course, that would not be necessary. But that is a distant dream right now. This is our worst nightmare."

Editorial titled "Let Our People Go," in the
Arab-American News
in Dearborn, Michigan

"The Bush administration has begun to monitor Iraqis in the United States in an effort to identify potential domestic terrorist threats posed by sympathizers of the Baghdad regime, senior government officials said. The previously undisclosed intelligence program involves tracking thousands of Iraqi citizens and Iraqi-Americans with dual citizenship who are attending American universities or working at private corporations, and who might pose a risk in the event of a United States- led war against Iraq, officials said... `This is the largest and most aggressive program like this we've ever had,' said one senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity."

New York Times , November 17, 2002

"These roundups are not about protecting people in this country. These attacks against young Muslim men are about getting people to go along with all the repression against Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants and not oppose any U.S. foreign wars and domestic repression, or, at a minimum, to be cowed into silence by these attacks."

Fact sheet put out by the
Blue Triangle Network

This situation calls for mass and broad resistance. A statement from Not In Our Name speaks to this: "NION calls on all people of conscience to stand in solidarity with our Arab, Muslim and South Asian brothers and sisters by voicing opposition to the `new normalcy' in creative, determined and daring ways. The next deadline when boys and men from 13 more countries are required to register is January 10th, 2003. We are calling on concerned citizens, organizations, individuals, the religious community, students, anti-war activists, politicians, business owners, teachers, union members, housewives and more!! Let the INS and our Government know we are opposed to this outrageous and unjust `re- registration' and the detentions and roundups of our friends, neighbors, classmates, professors and co- workers."

In 1945, summing up the emergence of Nazi Germany, Pastor Martin Niemoeller said, "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Today, they are coming first for immigrants and it is crucial that people speak up--and stop these attacks. We cannot afford to wait and see where this is heading. Things have gone too far as it is. Now is the time to resist.


"In 1939 we did not understand--we refused to believe--both out of ignorance and a desire not to see... If only we had realized; if only we had understood; if only we had been able to turn the historical tide back to the year 1939 we should have shouted `Revolt at once!' For then we were at the height of our strength. Then we were possessed of vigor and self-respect."

From the memoirs of Izhak Zuckerman,
one of the few surviving leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising

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