Ashcroft under fire for mass detentions

Angered by the detention of 400 Iranian, Arab and Muslim men and boys who went voluntarily to register with INS in Los Angeles Dec. 18, lawmakers and civil rights groups are blasting Attorney General John Ashcroft and demanding an end to the new registration program.

The mass arrests triggered an angry demonstration of 3,000 in Los Angeles that same day with people carrying placards that read, “Stop the war on immigrants.” A similar protest is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 10, in New York City and it is expected to loom as a major issue in demonstrations against Bush’s war on Iraq set for the Martin Luther King birthday weekend.

“We urge you to suspend further implementation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System … until Congress and the Department conduct a complete and thorough review of this program,” wrote Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Edward M Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in a Dec. 23 letter to Ashcroft.

The lawmakers debunked Ashcroft’s claims that the program is designed to protect the nation from terrorism. “Rather, this special registration program appears to be a component of a second wave of roundups and detentions of Arab and Muslim males disguised as a perfunctory registration requirement.” The letter cited reports that in the L.A. roundup, a 16-year-old youth, who entered the country legally on a student visa, was separated from his pregnant mother. The youth is seeking permanent residency to join his mother, who already had a green card and his stepfather, who is a U.S. citizen. An Iranian-Jewish immigrant who fled Iran was arrested and jailed even though he has had an application for residency pending for five years.

All but a handful, have since been released and not one terrorist was found in the L.A. roundup, the letter stated. “We are also concerned by reports that detainees have been denied access to counsel and are being held in deplorable conditions including being deprived of food for more than 24 hours and being forced to sleep on cold floors.”

A coalition that includes the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Alliance of Iranian Americans, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the National Council of Pakistani Americans filed a class action lawsuit in California against Ashcroft, asking the court to halt the registration program. ADC spokesman Hussein Ibish told the World it is “exceptionally important” to bring an end to the illegal dragnet arrests. “They have greatly damaged the relationship between the government and affected communities. People feel more strongly than ever, now, that the INS is unfair, that the entire system is unfair. If people try to cooperate with this discriminatory program, they end up being arrested and deported for no good reason.”

Recent reports have quoted unnamed FBI agents that the repeated “terrorist alerts” based on false claims of an impending attack are being orchestrated to instill mass fear across the nation. Said Ibish, “The anxiety is helpful in their acquiring certain powers, it serves their purposes to keep the people in a state of fear.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com