INS rounds up hundreds of Arab men in California
By Evan Kornfeld | January 3, 2003 | Page 12
JOHN ASCHROFT'S thugs used a post-September 11 immigration regulation to round up more than 500 Arab and Muslim men and boys in southern California.
Those arrested had gone to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices to comply with a rule requiring men aged 16 years or older from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria to register by December 16, 2002. According to press reports, about a quarter of those who showed up to register were detained--most because their immigration visas had expired due to bureaucratic delays.
A Syrian man, M.M. Trapici, registered at an INS office in Orange County, Calif., with a dozen friends--and was the only one allowed to leave. "All my friends are inside right now," he told reporters. "I have to visit the family for each one today. Most of them have small kids."
Attorney Soheila Jonoubi said he saw a 16-year-old boy pulled from the arms of his mother. "His mother is six-and-a-half months pregnant," Jonoubi said. "They told the mother he is never going to come home. She's losing her mind."
But the Feds aren't getting away with this witch-hunt without anyone speaking up. On December 18, thousands of protesters demonstrated in front of the Westwood Federal Building. From one end of the U.S. to the other, antiwar and immigrant rights activists announced plans for protests later this month.
Faced with growing pressure, the INS announced December 20 that it had released all but 20 of the detainees.
In the run-up to the December 16 deadline, the INS ran ads on local Arabic radio stations, leading people to believe that registration would be a routine procedure. Little did they know. "I think it is shocking what is happening," Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told reporters. "It's reminiscent of what happened in the past with the internment of Japanese Americans."
Initially, the INS refused to say how many people had been arrested. Later, officials admitted to arresting 200--although civil liberties groups and lawyers believe the actual figure is between 500 and 700. At the December 18 demonstration, protesters carried signs saying, "What's Next? Concentration Camps?" and "Free our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons."
"These are the people who've voluntarily gone," Mike Manesh, of the Iranian American Lawyers Association, told the Los Angeles Times. "If they had anything to do with terrorism, they wouldn't have gone."
Many of those released reported brutal treatment. Attorney Shawn Sedaghat, who represents several of those arrested, told the Times that some were hosed down with cold water before finding places to sleep on the concrete floors of cells. In the downtown federal building in Los Angeles, 120 people were put in a 400-square-foot room, with no place to sit and only one bathroom, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Shahin Hajizadeh, a pre-med student arrested after registering in Los Angeles, said that he was taken to a jail in the desert town of Lancaster, Calif., at 3:30 a.m. He was strip searched and allowed to sleep for only one hour before being awakened by a guard kicking him in the ribs.
Zahra Modjarrad reported that her son was forced to undergo a cavity search with a flashlight. "His spirit has been broken very badly because he was the person who never had any problems in his life," she said.
Gisroo Mohajeri urged her 16-year-old son, who had recently come to the U.S. from England, to register. Now, he faces deportation back to England. "He ran away from England to live with me, and right now, immigration tells me he has to come back to be deported to England," Gisroo said. "He doesn't have anybody there I blame myself. Why did I bring my son here and put him in jail. Why? Just because I followed the law. I made a mistake."
And if Ashcroft and the INS get their way, another roundup could happen very soon. That's because males from Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon and North Korea are required to register by January 10. Males from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have to register by February 21.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Alliance of Iranian Americans, the Council of American Islamic Relations and the National Council of Pakistani Americans have filed a class-action lawsuit against Ashcroft and the INS, arguing that the arrests were unlawful. The suit asks for a court injunction against the next registration deadline.
In the meantime, we have to organize more protests to stop Ashcroft's witch-hunt of Arabs and Muslims.