Government Targets Absconders Based on Ethnicity

Washington, DC –The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) today condemned the newly released details in the Justice Department’s “Absconder Apprehension Initiative” to focus special attention on 6,000 of the 315,000 deportation absconders in the United States solely based on their national origin and gender. According to sources, in a January 25 internal Justice Department (DOJ) memo, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson instructed anti-terrorism officials to “apprehend and interrogate thousands of illegal Middle Eastern immigrants who have ignored deportation orders, seeking ways to prosecute any who have ties to terrorism and compiling the results of interviews in a new computer database.” The memo also instructed the utilization of information gathered from recent interviews with thousands of Middle Eastern men who were invited to come forth voluntarily; this database initiative is already in place.
On October 25, 2001, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner James W. Ziglar met with ADC officials and a group of immigration attorneys and stated, “The INS will not be involved in anything that looks like a sweep, a round-up, or a general warrant proceeding.” ADC believes that the new DOJ guidelines have created such a sweep. According to the news media, Deputy Attorney General Thompson has indicated that, “these absconders are to be apprehended and treated as criminal suspects.” ADC views this as a witch hunt singling out those absconders simply because of their Arab origin. The excuse that these individuals come from countries with ties to terrorist groups does not justify targeting an entire ethnic population and treating everyone from that region as a terror suspect.
ADC is opposed to all measures that codify racial, ethnic or religious discrimination in government policy, including immigration policy. The newly released details enforce the impression that the government feels that young Arab men are, by definition, suspicious, potentially dangerous and are of interest to the authorities. ADC President Ziad Asali, MD, said, “the government has every right to try to deport persons who should not be in this country, but it is unconscionable to proceed with this effort based on a hierarchy of concern that is ethnically defined. Little by little we are systematizing in our policies the stereotype that young Arab men are a special class of persons who are to be treated differently than others.” Asali added, “There is no basis to believe that these discriminatory policies will enhance the security of our nation, but they certainly do diminish our society’s values and our commitment to fairness and equality.”

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