Government officials from President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft
on down thundered that they were in a relentless life-and-death struggle
to root out terrorists. Making vague but threatening accusations, the
government claimed that the arrested men were suspected of being active
or potential terrorists. But not a single person arrested in the post-9/11
sweeps was ever charged with any actions remotely connected to the 9/11
This ferocious onslaught was just the beginning of what has developed
into a heartless, vicious, and continuously intensifying onslaught--an
onslaught that has been a living nightmare for immigrants throughout the
country. As the U.S. unleashed its war machine on Afghanistan and then
Iraq; sent troops to Yemen, the Philippines, and other countries; and
continues to threaten virtually the entire world -- it has also been relentless
in attacking and suppressing immigrants, especially Muslim, Arab, and
South Asian immigrants, within the U.S. borders.
Ominous and Dangerous Escalation
Even before September 11, the U.S. government had greatly stepped up
its assaults on immigrants, focused most intensely on the southern border
area. (See box "Deadly Border.")
Since 9/11 the government has pushed through
a dizzying and broad array of laws, executive orders, and court decisions
that are an ominous and dangerous escalation of the already deadly attacks
on immigrants. This escalation has implications for all the people.
Today, Arab and South Asian communities live under a cloud of fear and
suspicion. Anyone who professes to be a Muslim is regarded as a "potential
terrorist." Thousands of people have been commanded into government
offices to register and be interrogated by federal officials. FBI agents
routinely visit mosques and keep tabs on who attends. The FBI has been
cultivating snitches within the Islamic communities, trying to turn neighbor
against neighbor and sow distrust within communities.
A reporter for the Detroit Free Press wrote, "The result
is a massive, extraordinary network--with undercover agents infiltrating
Arab and Muslim communities, street informants feeding information to
investigators, and cooperative but wary community leaders acting as cultural
guides into the local Arab world. The breadth of the probe is astounding.
Every aspect of Arab immigrant life is being watched."
Hundreds of thousands of "legal" immigrant men from many Arab,
Muslim, and South Asian countries have been ordered to undergo humiliating
government registration. And when they complied with the order, they were
treated brutally, and many were taken away in the middle of the night
to prisons in distant, remote areas, unable to contact their families
More than 82,000 people have undergone this special registration, and
the government intends to order all immigrants with non-residency status
to register. Now, the government has announced that as many as 13,000
of those who have registered will be deported--not for any "terrorism"-related
charges, but for often minor immigration violations.
The situation is chillingly reminiscent of what happened to more than
110,000 Japanese Americans during World War 2. As Rev. John Oda said at
a recent press conference in San Francisco, "What is happening with
the deportation of 13,000 individuals is wrong, unjust, immoral... My
parents, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents were all interned during
World War 2. They voluntarily cooperated with the U.S. government thinking
that they would get fair treatment. They were thrown into concentration
camps in the middle of the desert."
The political authorities and their faithful assistants in the mainstream
media have whipped up a political atmosphere intended to cast suspicion
on all men with Arabic and Islamic names and all women wearing the hijab.
Bush and others in his administration are threatening even broader and
harsher measures. In March a U.S. ambassador sneered a warning to the
Mexican government that there would be a price to pay for not fully and
enthusiastically supporting the war on Iraq. As reported in the New
York Times , the ambassador threatened that if Mexico did not vote
in favor of a UN resolution backing the U.S. war, "it could `stir
up feelings' against Mexicans in the United States. He compared the situation
to that of Japanese-Americans who were interned after 1941, and wondered
whether Mexico `wants to stir the fires of jingoism during a war.' "
Legal Measures Against Immigrants
To implement these crimes against the people and lay the groundwork for
even larger scale assaults, the government has undertaken an extraordinary
series of measures that go against some long-standing precedents in its
own legal system. These measures include the following:
- The Justice Department can now order secret hearings for "special
immigration cases" that it claims "jeopardize national security."
The chief immigration judge in the U.S., Michael Creppy, issued an order
to all INS judges: If they had a case designated as "special,"
they were to hear it separately from all other cases; close the courtroom
to family, press, and visitors; and not even confirm or deny that the
case is on their docket. In other words, the federal government can
detain immigrants without anyone even knowing that the person has been
charged with something or is being held in the first place. People can
thus be "disappeared" by the government. Ashcroft and his
Justice Department has the sole power to designate a case as "special"--and
such designation cannot be reviewed or challenged.
- The Bush administration has essentially eliminated due process rights
for immigrants, including those who are legal permanent residents. Previously,
under U.S. law, no formal distinction was made between the rights of
a citizen and non-citizen in the courts. Now, such long-established
basic legal protections as the right to a lawyer, the assumption of
innocence until guilt is proven, and lawyer-client privilege have all
been undermined and virtually eradicated in immigration cases.
- In April 2003, Ashcroft declared that undocumented immigrants can
be detained indefinitely, without bond, in the name of "national
security"--even if they are charged with no crime. He made this
decision in the case of Haitian immigrants who had been taken into custody
in Florida. Ashcroft defended this decision with insane arguments: that
Haiti had became a "staging area" for terrorists attempting
to come into the U.S.; that if Haitians weren't imprisoned without bond,
others would be encouraged to try the treacherous voyage from Haiti
to Florida, thus overwhelming U.S. "homeland security." This
"precedent-setting" ruling by Ashcroft applies not only to
all following cases but also to immigrants who had been previously released
on bond. The Ashcroft decision also applies to all nationalities--except
- The federal government has detained immigrants as "material witnesses"
in potential terrorism cases. These people are not charged with anything,
but the government imprisons them until they either agree to testify
against others or until the government decides they are "uncooperative"
and finds or concocts something to charge them with. Material witnesses
can be held for as long as the government wants. The government bars
the public from attending their hearings and bars their lawyers from
talking about them. Government officials have been ordered not to discuss
material witness cases. As a legal analyst at the Center for National
Security Studies said, "Jailing people who are simply under investigation
is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime." Another civil libertarian
pointed out that holding material witnesses had been originally intended
or previously used only to ensure testimony--but "under this (the
Bush/Ashcroft) interpretation, any one of us could easily be treated
as a material witness--anybody who is suspected of anything. It could
be the slightest of suspicion."
- Ashcroft initiated a program in South Carolina and Florida that allows
police and other state and local law enforcement agencies to arrest
people on federal immigration charges. This, too, goes against long-standing
policy and law, and enables--even encourages--local cops to pull over
and question people who are violating no laws, based on their language,
skin color, clothing, or whatever whim strikes them. Ashcroft's Justice
Department argues that the police have the "inherent right"
to do this kind of enforcement of immigration law and wants the program
to be extended to every state.
These and many other measures are being instituted as national policy.
They are not temporary. They are an essential component of the "new
Walking the Streets in Fear
The anti-immigrant measures are now being used most aggressively against
Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants, but they apply and are intended
to be used against all immigrants--and potentially against the population
as a whole. They are part of a pervasive attempt to squeeze, suppress,
and exploit immigrants at every turn. More than ever, the southern border
has been turned into a death zone.
Subsidized corn from giant U.S. agricultural corporations is pouring
into Mexico because of NAFTA, devastating the lives of impoverished Mexican
peasants. But when these peasants try to cross into the U.S. to make a
living in the fields or kitchens of America, they must contend with a
hellish array of high-tech fortifications just so they can be in a position
to stand for hours at a day-labor corner. Haitians who attempt to make
the perilous journey across the sea in rickety boats now face a prospect
of life in prison without charges in Bush's "compassionately conservative"
Last year Ashcroft announced the initiation of "Operation Tarmac"
in the name of enhancing "security" at airports. In the ensuing
months, hundreds of people of various nationalities were arrested at airports
in cities across the country. They were all immigrants who worked in the
lowest-paying jobs. And all were arrested for very minor immigration violations.
Some had worked at their jobs--such as scooping ice cream in airport restaurants--for
years. Some no longer worked at the airports--but were snatched when they
were called back by deceitful bosses who promised them raises.
None of those arrested in Operation Tarmac were accused of having any
"terrorist connections." But the government deported virtually
all of them--ruining the lives of these workers and their families in
the name of "national security."
In this climate of official suspicion and repression, racist and fundamentalist
Christian forces have also had their leashes loosened. These right-wing
forces have initiated a series of abusive and aggressive assaults aimed
to frighten and outright attack anyone who (they think) looks Arabic or
In Phoenix, explosives were thrown into the backyard of an Iraqi-American
family. In Indianapolis an Afghanistani restaurant owner suffered severe
burns after being attacked and set on fire in his own kitchen. In Chicago,
a car bomb went off outside the home of a Palestinian-American family.
A mosque in Chicago was set on fire after a racist DJ played a parody
song with the hateful refrain "hunka hunka burnin' mosques."
The impact of these attacks on immigrant communities--particularly on
the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities--has been devastating. Many
people, including many legal immigrants, are subjecting themselves to
a sort of "self deportation"--moving out of the U.S. for fear
that they will fall into the clutches of the government. Refugee centers
in Canada are now overflowing with people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and
elsewhere who have fled the U.S. These centers were originally set up
to help refugees from Central America fleeing U.S.-sponsored wars and
persecution in their homelands.
Others have remained in the U.S.--but find themselves feeling like they
are constantly watched and treated like criminals solely because of who
they are, where they are from, and what religion they practice. The government's
policies and actions are deliberately forcing people to live their lives
on the margins of the law.
A man from Bangladesh, living in New York, admitted to a reporter that
he did not register when he was called by the government even though his
lawyers advised him to do so. He explained, "In the last couple of
weeks I've heard about so many people being arrested, and that they would
A 37-year-old Palestinian man told of being thrown in jail in Tampa,
Florida, after he went to the authorities to register. Immigration officials
didn't know how to deal with a Palestinian born in a refugee camp in Lebanon.
So they simply arrested him, because the registration date for Lebanese
immigrants had passed. He summed up the situation for himself and countless
others: "We walk the streets in fear."
We Must Stop Them
It is imperative that the people persevere in building a powerful movement
that takes on and defeats these attacks on the immigrant brothers and
The persecution and repression of immigrants is deeply woven into American
history and society. But the current and escalating attacks--focused primarily
for now on Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants--are the most serious
and ominous threat against immigrants in many years.
The government is instituting a series of highly repressive measures,
comparable to those undertaken to put over 100,000 Japanese Americans
in concentration camps during WW2, backed up with a pervasive high-tech
spy apparatus. The government has given itself the right to imprison people
indefinitely without charges, drag people off to unknown prisons, and
hold secret hearings. They are trying to create an atmosphere in which
all immigrants, especially Arab, Muslim, and South Asian immigrants, are
looked at as a potential threat or enemy. And they are trying to get the
population at large to support or go along with these vicious and fascistic
attacks by fanning a sense of fear and by claiming the government is acting
to "protect our security."
But the real threat to people's well-being comes from the war-mongering,
police-state authorities in control of this society. The real danger to
the people are those in power who have embarked on an open- ended war
throughout the world and are instituting increasingly harsh measures of
repression and control in the "homeland."
They must not succeed. The people must stop them.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, federal and many state and local authorities
intensified their efforts to repress and control immigrants.
A series of walls from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California,
was key in turning the southern border into a militarized zone. As a result
of these and other murderous measures, immigrants have been forced to
cross through increasingly remote and dangerous areas of the border as
they try to get to the U.S. in search of work or to return to their families
and loved ones.
Thousands of people have died in border crossings--perishing from dehydration
in the Arizona desert or drowning in rivers and canals. The U.S. Coast
Guard patrolled the seas and arrested desperate, starving immigrants from
Haiti, China, and other countries.
Measures such as California's infamous Proposition 187 sought to deny
immigrants and their children access to public resources, such as health
care and education, and helped whip up an atmosphere that perversely blamed
immigrants for any and all problems in society. California and Texas,
with enormous populations of immigrants, enacted laws that effectively
prevented many of the undocumented from getting driver's licenses, thus
forcing them into a permanent status of illegality.
Through these and other actions, the authorities intensified their efforts
to repress and control immigrants--even as the economy of the U.S. became
more and more dependent on immigrants working in all sorts of jobs and
increasingly in every section of the country, and as the business districts
of many cities and towns were invigorated by immigrants.
These are stories of two among the hundreds of Arab, Muslim, and South
Asian immigrants who have been rounded up by the government since 9/11.
Anser Mahmood is a 42-year-old truck driver who lived in Bayonne,
New Jersey. Now he, his wife, and their four children live in Karachi,
Pakistan, after Anser was deported by the U.S. government.
Anser was arrested in the sweeps shortly after 9/11. He was arrested
in his home on October 3, 2001, when about 30 FBI agents showed up at
his home and ransacked it. They claimed they were looking for Anser's
brother-in-law, supposedly for credit card fraud. They told Anser that
he was clear with the FBI-- but he was wanted by the INS for overstaying
his business visa. They took him into custody. According to Anser, an
FBI agent told him that he'd "be back home by 11 the next morning."
Instead, what he described as "that hell" began. He was chained
hand and foot and loaded into a van with four other Muslim men. He was
beaten til his face bled. A guard at a Brooklyn jail told him, "You're
here as a World Trade Center suspect."
Anser Mahmood spend the next four months and two days in jail--in solitary
in a windowless cell. For two weeks he couldn't communicate even with
his family and lawyers. Closed circuit cameras displayed his every move
to prison guards. There was no interrogation about why he was arrested
or what his connection to 9/11 supposedly was. When he finally was able
to try to call his family, the line was disconnected. At the Mahmood home,
three windows were shattered by stone-throwing vigilantes.
Finally, on April 2, 2002, Anser was charged with a single criminal offense:
using an invalid Social Security card. He pled guilty to taking off the
"not valid for employment" label on the card so he could get
a second job driving a cab. On April 19, Anser was escorted to a Pakistan-bound
plane by INS agents.
Nabeel Khalid was preparing for a morning exam at the University of Oklahoma
in Norman, where he was studying business finance, when a troop of federal
agents came to his door. They questioned Nabeel for three hours and led
him away in handcuffs. When he told them he had an exam in two hours,
they told him that was the least of his worries.
Nabeel was taken to the Oklahoma County Detention Center, where he was
held in solitary in a tiny cell for almost a month. He was not charged
with any crime. He was not allowed to call or write his family or to phone
the Pakistani consulate. Federal agents argued that Nabeel should remain
in prison but refused to explain why; they just claimed that this honors
business student was a "threat to national security."
After three weeks, an immigration judge cited Nabeel's lack of criminal
record and ordered that bond be set. But meanwhile, federal authorities
had developed a pretext for holding and deporting Nabeel: they claimed
he was in violation of his student visa, since he had worked part time
at a convenience store.
A local Catholic priest read of the case of Nabeel Khalid and 17 other
Muslims who were rounded up in Norman after 9/11, and he tried to see
them in prison. "No one had told them anything," the priest
said. "They didn't know why there were there, they didn't know when
they would go to court, they didn't know they had a right to a lawyer--nothing."
The government began deportation proceedings against Nabeel because of
his convenience store job. He agreed to voluntary departure, because he
realized he would almost certainly be deported, go deeper into debt trying
to defend himself, and not be able to finish his studies. Back in Pakistan,
he told a reporter that his father is unemployed now and facing a very
hard time. "The money that he had, I mean he spent all of it on me
... for an education."