Immigrant Rights News - Tuesday, November 18, 2008
2. Farifield County Weekly News: The Usual Suspects: How innocent Muslims got caught in George Bush's dragnet, and how Yale students exposed it as a sham
Levy: I was wrong about hate-crime coverage in media
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said yesterday that he was wrong to call the hate-crime killing of an Ecuadorean man "a one-day story" and to argue that the slaying received undue attention because of his immigration policies.
"It was absolutely the wrong time for me to suggest that coverage of events in
The letter came two days after Levy said the Patchogue stabbing death Saturday of Marcello Lucero, 38, by seven teenage boys who police said were looking to harm a Hispanic man, "would be a one-day story" had it occurred in Nassau County. [CORRECTION: The victim in the Patchogue stabbing was Marcelo Lucero. His first name was misspelled in stories this week. Also, the teenagers accused in the death gathered at
In an interview and in prepared statements Monday and Tuesday, Levy argued there was no nexus between his anti-illegal-immigration policies and Lucero's death.
Since taking office in 2004, Levy has fought for and signed legislation to bar undocumented immigrants from working for county contractors and county licensees. He also invited federal immigration officials to the county jail and has had harsh relations with Long Island immigrant activists.
Levy's letter marks a rare mea culpa. Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said he couldn't recall Levy ever acknowledging a mistake.
"Steve Levy's a tough guy," Lindsay said. "He doesn't often admit that he's wrong."
Levy's critics welcomed his public admission.
Assemb. Phil Ramos (
The Rev. Allan Ramirez, pastor of the Brookville Reformed Church, who Monday said Levy "has blood on his hands," said he is optimistic about the letter.
"It demonstrates a good first step," Ramirez said. "Hopefully he has the wisdom to know that in order for there to be some degree of forgiveness, there has to be a recognition of some degree of responsibility."
Not every Levy critic was so kind. Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, said if Levy truly regretted his words, he would have retracted them sooner. "What we're seeing here," Young said, "is someone who is the executive of a county facing a grave moral crisis who sees it primarily as exercise in spin control."
And Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) said Levy had no choice but to retract his words.
"I think that he had to," said Barraga, who is allied with Levy on most issues, but differs on immigration policy. "He had to do mea culpa on this issue. You cannot make statements like that."
Levy's regrets come in advance of a public forum being hosted today by state Human Rights Commissioner Galen Kirkland, who is hosting the 10:30 a.m. meeting at Temple Beth El in Patchogue.
Levy spokesman Dan Aug said the county executive would "participate in services and vigils in the days ahead," but did not offer details.
Levy's office said he will host a public meeting Sunday in Patchogue to discuss the slaying and the community's healing process.
Staff writers Patrick Whittle and Joie Tyrrell contributed to this story.
FORUM, FUNERAL FOR LUCERO
FORUM TODAY. Galen D. Kirkland, commissioner of the state Division of Human Rights, and Paul V. Pontieri Jr., mayor of Patchogue, co-sponsor a community forum today at 10:30 a.m. at Temple Beth El,
VIGIL TONIGHT. Community and religious groups will gather at 7 tonight at the site of the attack at
FUNERAL TOMORROW. The funeral for Lucero will be tomorrow at the Congregational Church of Patchogue at
The Usual Suspects
How innocent Muslims got caught in George Bush's dragnet, and how Yale students exposed it as a sham
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Yale law students Sameer Ahmed and Bram Elias helped expose a secret Bush administration counterterrorism program as a massive fishing expedition predicated on racial profiling
Federal agents summoned Rashid to the nearest federal building one day. They wanted to talk about his status as a
Do you own guns, explosives or chemical components, the agents asked? Do you know anyone who does? Have you had any military or weapons training? Do you know anyone who's taken flight lessons? Or anyone who's laundering money or financed terrorism?
Rashid (not his real name) was taken aback. A twenty something Pakistani immigrant and recent graduate of a prestigious American university, he told the agents he didn't know anything of the sort.
"They were polite. They weren't belligerent," Rashid says in a phone interview. "I didn't feel uncomfortable. I just thought they were odd questions. I assumed that since I was from
After 30 minutes, Rashid was free to go. Days later Rashid secured a six-year work visa. That's the last he thought about the short interview. Until now.
As the Bush administration prepares to make its disgraced exit from
Operation Front Line's stated goal was to disrupt terrorist cells that might be planning an attack during the campaign or on inauguration day.
But government documents recently obtained by a team of
Of the 300 case files supplied to Yale, not a single immigrant was charged with a terror-related crime. Nearly all the immigrants questioned came from Muslim-majority countries. Many weren't even in violation of their visas.
The Yale team says the evidence shows the feds "conflate 'Muslim background' with 'terrorist.'" The American Civil Liberties Union brands it "unconstitutional and discriminatory." The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee calls it blatant racial and religious profiling that had "nothing to do with protecting the election process or anything relating to terrorism."
The Bush administration, meanwhile, has yet to say a word about it.
In a windowless basement room in
"We were reviewing documents in another case — we're not allowed to speak about the case — and the words Operation Front Line came up," says Ahmed.
So Yale Law School's National Litigation Project, a human rights advocacy clinic, filed a freedom of information request, and later a federal lawsuit, seeking records on the operation from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), its umbrella agency the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a half dozen other agencies.
That launched a two-year legal battle during which the feds continually stonewalled the Yale lawyers, blowing off laws requiring an answer within 20 days, or saying they couldn't supply information for national security reasons.
The Yale lawyers didn't buy it and kept fighting for the records' release. Homeland Security finally relented in September of this year, reaching a partial settlement with Yale that supplied them with thousands of pages of heavily redacted case files and internal memos the feds previously claimed couldn't possibly be shared.
The Yale team soon discovered what they suspect is the reason for the secrecy. ICE supplied them with 300 individual case files, selected at random from ICE offices all over the country. Separately, they supplied every case file from the
What they found was that Operation Front Line, conducted in two phases from May 2004 through February 2005, was a total bust. The sweeping immigration enforcement campaign involved 504 people and was justified on national security grounds, but didn't result in a single terror-related arrest. The worst crimes in the Yale files were identity theft and credit card forgery.
"What a huge waste of government resources," says Ahmed. "They were talking to people who are doctors and students and engineers, who come from Muslim backgrounds, and asking them the most widespread questions just to try to find something."
The information supplied by ICE shows a disturbing trend of what could only be read as ethnic profiling. Of the 300 immigrants, 79 percent were from Muslim-majority countries such as
Only 18 percent of the operation's targets were charged with any immigration violation at all; the most common, an overstayed visa. Three-quarters of them were men.
"The numbers speak for themselves," says Kareem Shora, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "If you talk about a population that makes up less than 1 percent of the undocumented in the
Rashid certainly felt profiled, even if he wasn't expressly intimidated.
Rashid was surprised to learn he'd been caught in a national security dragnet without knowing it. When I read him the details of his interview from an ICE incident report, Rashid was more unnerved about such information becoming public than about being pegged by ICE as a possible terrorist.
"This is not something I would want in the papers," he says.
Rashid agreed to speak about his experience as an Operation Front Line target on the condition that no revealing information would be published. What we can tell you is this: Rashid was born in
"Everyone had to do it," Rashid says. "Officially, they had a list of countries and people from those countries had to go and report."
Rashid gave fingerprints and personal information for NSEERS, so when agents questioned him for Operation Front Line, Rashid says it "seemed normal."
The agents asked him about weapons and whether he attended a mosque with radical ideologies. They asked what he knew about laundering money. Nothing, Rashid told them, adding that government crack-downs on money laundering have made it hard to send and receive money even for legitimate purposes, like when his parents send money for school.
Upon graduating Rashid secured a job and a work visa that lets him remain in the U.S. Rashid plays golf in his free time and likes the rock band Queen. His life, he says, is as normal as anyone he knows. How he got singled out as a possible terrorist, Rashid says, he'll never know.
The ICE reports provided to Yale are full of dead-end cases like Rashid's.
Though redacted with so much black ink they at times resemble Rorschach tests, a close reading of the documents reveals small sketches of lives caught in the crosshairs.
A student pursuing a degree in civil engineering; another attending the
Another immigrant, not from
I'm living the American dream, he said.
The Bush administration hasn't commented publicly on Operation Front Line since the details were made public last month in a
The only window into their thinking comes from a single press release and internal policy documents obtained by the Yale team in the court settlement.
Perhaps the first mention of Operation Front Line came in a CBS News broadcast on Sept. 17, 2004, describing what the network called "The October Plan," a campaign by ICE and the FBI that was "a massive counter-offensive of interrogations, surveillance and possible detentions" to disrupt a terrorist plot.
A week later, ICE put out a news release that hinted at the scope of Operation Front Line without referring to it by name. The operation would go after immigrant status violators based on "national security criteria" and anyone out of status would be arrested. Importantly, ICE said it was operating "without regard to race, ethnicity or religion."
"ICE is not conducting a 'round-up' or a 'sweep' in any community," the release read. "ICE is not profiling based on race or religious affiliation."
ICE spokesman Richard Rocha says that ICE cannot comment, "due to ongoing litigation."
In a memo dated Sept. 27, 2004, to all ICE field office directors, the operation was again described in terms of counterterrorism. "ICE will conduct a nationwide disruption operation ... intended to detect, deter, and disrupt terrorist operations leading up to the Presidential Election."
In November 2004, ICE announced it had arrested 230 people so far in the disruption campaign. The concentration of Muslim names caught Kareem Shora's attention.
"They gave eight examples of people they had detained, six of which happened to be Arabs or Muslims," says Shora of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
The ADC filed suit in U.S. District Court in D.C., seeking the nationalities of all those arrested, but lost. When they learned Yale's National Litigation Project was looking for the same thing in federal court in
"This was a slap in the face," Shora says. "What [the Department of Homeland Security] told us four years ago was that they are not profiling people and these numbers came up and they have yet to provide us an explanation. That tells me someone is either lying or being lied to within DHS." Shora says DHS needs to explain why so many Muslims were targeted "or litigation continues to be an option."
Both Shora and the Yale project members say it's unusual for ICE to be so tight-lipped about an operation of this size. And they suggest it's because the operation missed its intended target.
"If they got some high target terrorism threat, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez would have made this front page news," says Yale's Sameer Ahmed.
Aside from the 230 arrests publicized in November 2004, ICE did highlight two Front Line arrests in a briefing to the congressional Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims on Nov. 10, 2004. But again, neither was charged with terror-related crimes.
The suspects' names are blacked out, but the 14-page document obtained by Yale tells us this:
One was arrested on Oct. 27, 2004, near
The second immigrant was arrested in
The people at the Yale clinic understand that the government needs to pursue terror investigations, Ahmed says. It's the indiscriminate methods employed under Operation Front Line that concern him.
"You could tell that ICE had no specific leads on any of these individuals, because if they did, the way these summaries would go is, We asked this person about this specific individual, etc.," says Ahmed.
Yale's case against Homeland Security is ongoing, as the sides will now fight over what information is reasonable to redact and what is not. But the biggest get has been gotten.
Hundreds of Muslim immigrants were arrested for what seem like legitimate crimes, like marriage fraud and forgery. But the way they were arrested may prove illegal. Lawyers could use the information gathered to make a compelling case that an immigrant arrested under Operation Front Line was unlawfully arrested because he was ethnically profiled, a denial of due process rights under the Constitution.
Yale's National Litigation Project isn't sure what its next move will be. Neither is ADC.
As for Rashid, he says his life will go on as normal. After the federal agents questioned him about weapons and terrorism, Rashid says he told the story to "almost everyone" he knew. "They just thought it was an interesting story," Rashid says. Imagine what they'll think when they hear the rest of the it.
A Profile in Ethnic Profiling: Operation Front Line
- Immigration crack-down launched during 2004 presidential campaign.
- More than 2,500 immigrants questioned about terrorism, including more than 20 in
- Out of 300 case files selected at random by ICE and reviewed by
- No arrests for terror-related crimes.
- Only 18 percent of the case files were arrested for immigration violation.
- Crimes charged against immigrants include identity theft and credit card forgery.
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