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Shredding civil liberties and scapegoating immigrants
Ashcroft's Injustice Department

By Nicole Colson | May 30, 2003 | Page 2

THERE'S NOTHING "just" about John Ashcroft's Justice Department. And the attorney general proved it in his report on the department's use of expanded "anti-terrorism" powers, delivered to Congress last week.

According to the report, for example, officials admitted that at least 50 people were secretly detained in the months following the September 11 attacks on "material witness" warrants. Although the Justice Department claims that 90 percent were either charged or released by the time they had spent 90 days in jail, there's no way of knowing for sure--since the Feds refuse to release the names.

The Justice Department also revealed that some FBI field offices (they claim "fewer than 10") visited mosques as part of their investigations--and that about 50 libraries across the country were asked to provide information about terrorism "suspects." But the invasion of privacy doesn't stop there. Federal investigators used the USA PATRIOT Act's new provision on "sneak and peek" searches more than 200 times to delay telling people that they were targets of searches or that their property was seized.

The CIA and other "intelligence" agencies have shared thousands of files with the Justice Department--a practice that had largely been banned in the past because of government abuses in the 1960s and '70s. What's more, according to the Washington Post, the Justice Department has been using many of its post-September 11 anti-terrorism powers to go after people for crimes totally unrelated to terrorism--like drug violations, bank theft and credit card fraud. "Many of these powers [in the USA PATRIOT Act] were actually being asked for as a way of increasing the government's authority in other areas," said Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable in Ashcroft's America. According to a report last week by the Chicago Tribune, nearly 10 percent of the more than 138,000 mainly Muslim and Arab immigrants who were required to register with the government under a system set up last fall are now facing deportation.

In a disgusting move, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) announced that by next year, all foreigners entering the U.S. will be required to register. That means thousands more people will be caught up in the witch-hunt.

Men like Khalid Faiz-Mohammad, a Pakistani cab driver from a Chicago suburb who went to register in February Although Khalid had entered the U.S. illegally in 1989, he had filed an application for legal residency in 1996 and is married to a U.S. citizen. Both he and his attorney assumed that he would have no problems registering. They were wrong.

Khalid was taken into custody on the day that he tried to register four months ago. And he's been held in jail ever since. His legal bills have piled up to more than $18,000 and he has been unable to see his 10-year-old daughter.

Last Sunday, he was scheduled to be deported to Pakistan. Registering "was the worst decision I made in my life," Khalid told the Tribune. "I was trying to be a good citizen." According to Fred Tsao, an attorney with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, "The immigration service was using registration as a deportation trap."

At the same time, the Feds have stepped up the campaign to demonize immigrant workers--with continued arrests of undocumented immigrants at airports and other so-called "high-risk" facilities. Last week, for example, an undisclosed number of undocumented immigrant workers were arrested at the Sears Tower in Chicago.

"This is really an outrageous abuse of national security rhetoric to scapegoat people who are doing nothing but working in restaurants," Joshua Hoyt, of the Illinois Coalition told the Tribune. One woman named Lourdes told the Tribune that her husband had only been working at the Sears Tower for a month when he was caught in the sweep."This is an injustice," she said. "How can they take away his life like this?" she asked.

For Lourdes' husband, and the thousands of others caught up in Ashcroft's net, the answer is that most are simply convenient scapegoats in the "war on terror. We have to speak out against these injustices--and send the Bush gang a message that we won't stand by and watch our civil liberties be stripped away.

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