Hundreds protest at INS

CHICAGO – Several hundred Chicagoans rallied in front of the office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service here Jan. 10 to protest the heavy-handed methods used by the government with people from Middle Eastern nations required to register themselves.

This was the second of a series of dates for registration. The previous date, Dec. 18, saw arrests of some of the people who showed up. In Los Angeles several hundred were taken away in handcuffs, most for very minor visa violations or many on the basis of wrong information. There will be at least one more registration date.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), have called on Congress to conduct a full investigation of the registration program. Calling registration “a false solution to a real problem,” the groups have also called on President Bush to immediately end the program, which they say is against the basic principles on which the United States was founded.

“This registration program is an extended vacation from common sense,” said Dalia Hashad, ACLU’s Arab, Muslim and South Asian Advocate. “Not only does it undercut core American conceptions of law and basic decency, it reduced security by alienating the very communities whose cooperation is essential in the fight against terrorism.”

Speakers at the Chicago rally, which was organized and endorsed by three dozen peace and justice groups, included Dr. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society (the United Church of Christ’s social justice agency in Chicago), who denounced the detentions as “horrendous, not American,” and promised to continue to fight against such “indignities and injustices.”

Sam Ozaki of the Japanese-American Citizens League likened the roundups, and the general tendency to profile Muslims and Arabs, to the roundup of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which he experienced personally. He warned that if things continue this way, a new mass internment policy was possible.

Hatem Abu-Dayyeh, executive director of the Arab-American Action Network, pointed out that the round-ups could presage the targeting for persecution of anybody perceived to be support of national liberation movements anywhere, not just in the Middle East.

Rabbi Rebecca Lilian, of Rabbis for Human Rights, North America, compared the targeting of Muslims and Arabs for special administrative treatment to the similar treatment of her Jewish relatives in Europe and by the INS before World War II. Decrying the bungling ineptitude of the INS in the best of circumstances, she stated “our enemy is not the immigrant, our enemy is the terrorist, and the more the two are confused, this country becomes a terrorist one instead of a victim of terrorism.”

In Los Angeles, human rights monitors were on hand for the registrations, along with a huge battery of press and many protesters.

In San Franciso, a similar rally drew hundreds, jamming the sidwalks around the INS in the city’s downtown. Organized by a broad colation of civil rights organizations, led by the National Lawyers Guild and the ADC, the action followed a week of daily picket lines.

Among the speakers in San Francisco was Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Methodist Church. “At any time when our brothers and sisters are denied civil liberites, civil rights or human rights, we must always have a cadre of people who will stand up and say, ‘No, no, no,’” he said.

Lucille Whitney contributed to this article.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org