You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Federal government witch-hunt against Arabs and Muslims
Victims of the war at home

January 17, 2003 | Page 6

NICOLE COLSON shows how the Bush administration's post-September 11 witch-hunt is wrecking lives.

JOHN ASHCROFT says that the new rule would make the U.S. "safer," while "protecting the rights of individuals coming here." He should ask Bijan Pirazdeh if he feels "safe" or "protected."

Ashcroft was talking about the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, implemented after September 11, which requires men over the age of 16 with temporary visas from a number of countries to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

December 16 was the deadline for those from Iraq, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya. So Pirazdeh showed up at INS headquarters in Los Angeles at 5 a.m., thinking that he would fill out some paperwork and then head to his job as a transit engineer.

He never made it to work that day. Instead, he was sent to jail, and now he faces deportation. And Pirazdeh is not alone. As many as 700 people--most in southern California--were detained as a consequence of the registration policy.

That's because some INS offices decided to arrest anyone with an immigration "irregularity"--even though current immigration law gives immigrants who have overstayed their visas the right to have their status regularized by paying a fine and going through a hearing if they have family ties in the U.S., a job and a clean record.

Many immigrants with green card applications pending as part of that process assumed that they were protected. That includes Pirazdeh, who has lived in the U.S. since the mid-1980s and had an INS interview scheduled for February 7 to get permanent resident status.

But don't expect any sympathy from the federal government. As thousands of angry protesters gathered outside the Los Angeles INS building following the arrests, community relations officer Jorge Swank had the nerve to tell the crowd: "We feel your pain."

He's got to be kidding. How could Swank feel the pain of Shahin Hajizadeh, who described being beaten by police--or the many others who said they ended up in crowded cells, forced to rest standing up in the frigid cold.

Swank doesn't know anything about the pain of six-and-a-half-months-pregnant Gisroo Mohajeri, whose 16-year-old son Hossein Ahmadi was arrested after he went to register at his mother's insistence.

And if John Ashcroft gets his way, the detentions and arrests will continue to pile up. Despite a wave of protests, the INS maintained its January 10 registration deadline for men from the United Arab Emirates, North Korea, Morocco, Afghanistan and nine other countries, and it has at least two more rounds of registrations scheduled to follow.

So people like Abdo, a Yemeni passport holder, wonder if they, too, will also be caught in the witch-hunt. A 41-year-old airport shuttle driver from Virginia, Abdo wasn't expecting any trouble when he went with his lawyer to register at INS offices in Arlington, Va., on January 10. But he was still called up to the fourth floor--where the deportation and detention office is housed. "It looks like a communist country, a dictatorship," he told the Washington Post, as he surveyed the waiting room full of immigrants--some of whom wouldn't be going home that day.

In the end, Abdo was one of the lucky ones--he wasn't arrested. But hundreds more won't be so lucky. That's why activists are organizing rallies at INS headquarters in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities to meet each new registration deadline with opposition.

As Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations of Southern California, told one rally: "This new McCarthyism against Muslims must end. Are you going to deport us all?"

How they use phony terrorism scares

IN THE 16 months since the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration hasn't managed to charge a single person with any offense directly related to the hijackings.

They must be getting desperate. So desperate, in fact, that when an informant recently told investigators that five men were planning an attack on the U.S., the FBI spearheaded a global manhunt for the suspected plotters.

George W. Bush even appealed for the public's help in finding the men suspected of sneaking across the border from Canada into the U.S. One problem: It turns out that there was never a plot to begin with. Turns out the story was made up by a man in custody in Canada.

Last week, FBI officials were wiping egg off their faces after admitting that they didn't know whether any of the men had ever come to the U.S.

In fact, one of the photos appears to be that of Mustafa Khan, a jeweler in Lahore, Pakistan, who was surprised to see his picture broadcast around the world as a terrorist suspect lurking in the U.S.--though he had never left Pakistan.

Home page | Back to the top