RW ONLINE: Profiled and Persecuted
Profiled and Persecuted
How the U.S. government is terrorizing immigrants from 20 Arab and Muslim
Revolutionary Worker #1182, January 12, 2002, posted at rwor.org
"One day he's an (information technology) professional with a briefcase, the
next he's in shackles at the INS office."
Judy Shum, wife of Faramarz Farahani, an Iranian immigrant who
works at Silicon Valley Company ( San Francisco Chronicle )
"These people came to the INS centers voluntarily. They are not flight risks.
They were led to believe it was routine registration, and now this is the
biggest trap I have ever seen."
Sohelia Jonoubi, attorney representing some of those detained by
"My cousin is 45. He's been there for 48 hours. He went in on Monday to sign
up. He's here legally. He took all his papers. He was in line from 5:00 in the
morning. Finally about 6:00 it was his turn to do the interview. The interview
took about 45 minutes. They took him upstairs and detained him. His wife, my
cousin, came home and we heard from him about 11:00 at night. He said, `There's
about 500 of us in the room, but we don't know what's going to happen.'
"The next day he called, `We're still here. We haven't had anything to eat.
We had one boiled egg and a piece of bread. No sleeping. The air conditioners
are on. Everybody is tired. Nobody can sit down or lay down.' Finally last night
he called and they had set a bail of ,500 for him. My cousin has been in the
line since 4:00 this morning to post the bail. She stood in two lines, and
they're still not home."
An Iranian woman telling the RW
about her cousin in southern
In November 2002, hundreds of immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries were
arrested and detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Sevice (INS) after
they voluntarily reported to INS facilities around the country to comply with a
"special registration" program ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft. The
program required male non-citizens over 16 who were born in Iran, Iraq, Syria,
Sudan and Libya and who do not have permanent resident (Green Card) status to be
fingerprinted, photographed and questioned by December 16.
In southern California, which has the largest Iranian-American population in
the U.S., arrests were particularly heavy. Iranian-American lawyers estimate as
many as 700 arrests in Los Angeles and 200 in Santa Ana. In the SF-Bay Area, New
York and in other parts of the country, immigrants were also detained on a
In Los Angeles, the INS ran out of plastic handcuffs, filled their lock-ups
and then shipped prisoners to outlying detention centers--to Lancaster in the
Mojave Desert, to federal lockups in Arizona, to INS camps at the U.S.-Mexico
border. This made it impossible for lawyers or family members to contact them,
or even know where they were. And the INS refused to release the names and any
information on the number of detentions or the circumstances under which
immigrants were detained.
Immigrants from 13 additional countries--Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain,
Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United
Arab Emirates, and Yemen--have been ordered to register by January 10, 2003.
Immigrants from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been told to report by February
Stories of the Detained
`'We were treated like animals in Iran and all I want is for my kids to grow
up and say they're proud to be Americans. But until the day I die, I'm going to
be a foreigner in this country, because of the way I look and my accent.''
An Iranian Jewish man who was detained in Los Angeles
reporting for registration
The detentions were brutal and humiliating. Attorney Soheila Jonoubi said he
saw a 16- year-old pulled from the arms of his crying mother. "His mother is six
and a half months pregnant. They told the mother he is never going to come
home-- she is losing her mind." Jonoubi said the mother has permanent residence
status and that her husband, the boy's stepfather, is a U.S. citizen. The
teenager came to the country in July on a student visa and was on track to gain
Bijan Pirazdeh, born in Iran, went to INS headquarters in downtown L.A. at 5
a.m. on December 16, expecting to fill out some routine paperwork and go to work
a few blocks away. Pirazdeh, 43, is a Caltrans engineer who had worked for the
state for more than two years. A resident of California since 1995, he had fled
Iran in the mid-1980s after being jailed for three years on political offenses
and was granted political asylum in Norway before coming to the U.S. He had an
interview scheduled for February 7 to obtain permanent resident status. On
December 16 he was sent to jail for five days and is now threatened with
Mohammad Fallahi, a Fresno car salesman, came to the U.S. on a student visa
in 1974 when he was 17 years old, stayed in the U.S. on a series of temporary
work permits and had applied for permanent residency. His brother Allen says
Mohammad reported to the INS offices in Fresno "believing that everything was
all right and that there was no problem." But Mohammad was arrested and shipped
to the Bakersfield jail and kept in solitary confinement in his cell for all but
one hour a day.
Ramsin Ziazadeh, a 30-year-old electrical engineer for National Semiconductor
in Silicon Valley, found out about the special registration program on the
Internet--two days after the deadline. When he tried to register he was arrested
put in shackles and flown to an immigration detention center in San Diego, where
several hundred men were already packed into jail cells.
Farhan Memon, who works for a San Francisco law firm representing some of the
detainees, told the San Francisco Chronicle about the inhumane conditions
in the San Diego holding center. Memon visited the men who were jammed into a
small cell without beds or chairs, rationed two squares of toilet paper, and
given little food. Memon said. "It was so cold, like 50 degrees in there, and
they could get a long-sleeved shirt, but they had to buy it."
Iranian-American lawyer Sohelia Jonoubi told Reuters, "The situation in the
detention centers is absolutely horrifying. In one center, they were ordered to
strip down and given a strip search. They were only given a prison jumpsuit,
without any underwear, T-shirts, socks or shoes. They were not given blankets.
They are freezing."
Shawn Sedaghat, a Sherman Oaks attorney, and his partner, Michelle
Taheripour, represent more than 40 people who voluntarily went to register and
were detained. Sedaghat reported that the detainees were hosed down with cold
water and then left to sleep on concrete floors.
Some detained immigrants were transported around the country for no apparent
reason other than to make it difficult for them to speak with their family and
attorneys. One attorney said his client was transported in shackles from
California to Arizona to Chicago, then back to Arizona, then to Bakersfield,
then to San Diego. The INS then claimed they could not locate the man and that
he was "lost in the system."
After days of such brutal treatment most of those detained were released.
According to the INS only 20 immigrants remain in custody. Many of those
detained had to pay bail of up to ,000 to secure their release. In Iranian and
Arab communities, people raised money for those who couldn't post bail
themselves. Those detained now face immigration hearings and possible
The INS claims that all of those detained had expired visas or were otherwise
in violation of U.S. immigration law. But this is a lie.
The majority of those detained had filed for a Green Card under an
immigration law adopted in the 1990s and reauthorized in 2000. Under this
process (known as 245i) immigrants who have overstayed their visas can have
their status regularized by paying a fine and going through a hearing so long as
they have family ties in the United States, a job or job offer and a clean
record. Immigrants with this status are allowed to stay in the U.S. pending
their hearing--which can take years because of an INS
New Mass Registration Law
"In light of the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 and
subsequent events, and based on information available to the Attorney General,
the Attorney General has determined that certain nonimmigrant aliens require
From the official registration notice
"We are Americans who have chosen to live here. Suddenly, we are foreigners
in this country. We have done nothing wrong, and now we have to register with
Shaukat Sindhu, president of the Chicago-based
American Association of North America
This mass registration of immigrants is part of the second phase of the
so-called "National Security Entry-Exit Registration System" (NSEERS). The first
phase of Special Registration, initiated on the one-year anniversary of the
September 11 attacks, required people entering the U.S. from certain countries
to be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed under oath when entering the
The mass registration allows the INS to compile a database of immigrants that
can track people's whereabouts and immigration status and be integrated with the
FBI criminal database. Those who fail to register face criminal prosecution and
In addition to registration these targeted immigrants are required to report
back yearly to the INS, report any change of address, change in employment or
school, and if leaving the U.S. "must appear in person before an INS inspecting
officer at one of the designated ports and leave the United States from that
port on the same day."
In the "interviews" immigrants are asked to give their parents' names and
addresses, the names and addresses of their American contacts, their e-mail
address, and a form of identification other than their passport and immigration
documents. They are also asked how they arrived in the United States and when,
as well as whether they have any connection to "terrorist organizations." They
are also asked about their religious affiliations, what mosque they attend and
questions about any political affiliations they might have. The interview
process can take over one hour. People are also digitally photographed and
fingerprinted--and the photo and prints are then immediately run against various
criminal and immigration service databases.
Lawyers who have sat in on the proceedings said they found them chilling.
"When you're in this room and everybody around you is a Middle Eastern man, it
really sinks in,'' said Jacqueline Baronian, an immigration lawyer in New York.
"It looks like people are being rounded up, and it's very, very
Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project fears the
wave of arrests is "a prelude to much more widespread arrests and
Such fears are well justified. Anyone familiar with the round-up of Jews by
the Nazis or the internment of Japanese Americans by the U.S. knows that
registration and the compiling of lists was a crucial part of paving the way for
mass internment. (See sidebar, "Frightening
"We Are Outraged"
"We have rights, and we will not go away simply because we are not citizens.
We are outraged at what is going on."
Tareef Nashashibi, president of the
Arab- American Republican
Club of Orange County
"This new McCarthyism against Muslims must end. Are you going to deport us
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the
America-Islamic Relations of Southern California
As news spread of the detentions in Los Angeles, Farsi-language radio station
KIRN-AM (670) canceled its regular programming to focus on the registration. The
station took calls from immigrants who were incarcerated by the INS and their
families and became a forum for people to voice outrage at the detentions.
Pacifica radio, KPFK, devoted time on several broadcasts a day to let people
know what was going on.
People told details of the government interrogations, how they were asked
outrageous questions like, "Have you ever done anything immoral in your
Ban Al-Wardi, an Iraqi-American immigration attorney, said, "I've had clients
that were asked to provide documents such as their bank statements, their ATM
cards, their Blockbuster video cards. With all the talk now of surveillance of
video check-outs, stuff from libraries, it could be a way to trace these
people's activities. Even if this information is not used to trace these
activities, it could be used to scare these people into thinking they're being
watched, as to what movies they're checking out from Blockbuster or what
withdrawals they're making from their bank accounts."
KIRN played a major roll in organizing a demonstration by 3,000 Iranians
outside the Los Angeles Federal Building on December 18. Some carried signs
reading, "What's Next, Concentration Camps?" The demonstration broke through the
media silence about the registration and made national and international
In response to the demonstration, the Department of Justice dispatched a
federal mediator to meet with representatives of the Iranian community.
According to the Los Angeles Weekly the mediator praised the Iranian
community for complying with the registration but warned community
representatives against any further demonstrations.
Stephen Thom, the representative from the Department of Justice, threatened,
"I think we need to look at what is the impact of open, glaring challenges to
On December 24 a class action lawsuit was filed in Federal Court, challenging
the registration. The suit was filed by attorneys for the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Alliance of Iranian Americans (AIA),
the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the National Council of
Pakistani Americans (NCPA). Attorneys from the Center for Human Rights and
Constitutional Law and the Asian Law Caucus also assisted in the preparation of
the legal brief. Six individuals detained as a result of the new INS policy of
special registrations are co-plaintiffs, and represent a broader group of
victims. The groups are seeking to stop the next registration deadline on
In response to the lawsuit, Justice Department lawyers argued that the
lawsuit should be thrown out because the court lacks jurisdiction to review INS
decisions regarding detentions. That power is reserved for the U.S. Supreme
Court according to the government attorneys. This in itself is an outrage. The
government wants to have the right to detain people who have committed no crime
in humiliating and brutal conditions and then says that those detained have
little or no right to challenge their detention in court.
On December 23, demonstrators gathered in front of the San Francisco INS
office to protest the registration and detentions. Tanya Mayo, an organizer with
Not In Our Name (NION), said, "We will not be caught off guard when the next
registration deadline expires on January 10. We will be in the streets showing
solidarity with our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters."
Many groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of
Immigration Attorneys, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the
Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Iranian-American Bar Association, Japanese
American Citizens League and Not in Our Name, have issued statements and press
releases denouncing the registration.
A community meeting on December 20 in Orange County drew 600 people from 20
different organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR), the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, People for the American Way,
Christians and Muslims for Peace, the L.A. County Bar Association, and the
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in L.A. (CHIRLA). Others, including the
Japanese- American Citizens League, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Sweatshop
Watch, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), South Asian
Network, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Asian Pacific Legal Center, have
protested the roundups.
A protest was held on January 4 at the INS office in downtown L.A., sponsored
by the American- Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Alliance of Iranian
Americans, CAIR and the National Council of Pakistani Americans. Other groups
are organizing volunteer lawyers to accompany immigrants to the interviews.
Protests are planned nationwide at INS offices to coincide with the January
10 registration deadline. In New York a coalition of 40 community, religious and
political organizations is planning a demonstration on January 10. In the San
Francisco Bay Area a coalition is calling for a week of actions from January 6
to January 10. And demonstrations are also planned for January 10 in Chicago and
Los Angeles, and for January 13 in Seattle. The South Asian Network has called
for an immigrants' rights contingent at the Say No to War march in L.A. on
"Let Our People Go"
"We believe it was designed to actually discourage further cooperation from
the community with the government, thus ultimately giving the government wider
latitude in its ongoing trampling of constitutional and civil rights.
Henceforth, when thousands of people don't cooperate in any given initiative out
of well-founded fear and mistrust of the Bush-Ashcroft regime, detention camps
can be set up all over the country.
"The fact is that the government is only interested in instilling terror
in the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. Why? The coming
firestorm in the Middle East. Conducting the Bush Administration's brand of
foreign policy can be difficult with a nation of immigrants looking on, so
shutting those immigrants up is mandatory. If our foreign policy were just, of
course, that would not be necessary. But that is a distant dream right now. This
is our worst nightmare."
Editorial titled "Let Our People Go," in the
News in Dearborn, Michigan
"The Bush administration has begun to monitor Iraqis in the United States in
an effort to identify potential domestic terrorist threats posed by sympathizers
of the Baghdad regime, senior government officials said. The previously
undisclosed intelligence program involves tracking thousands of Iraqi citizens
and Iraqi-Americans with dual citizenship who are attending American
universities or working at private corporations, and who might pose a risk in
the event of a United States- led war against Iraq, officials said... `This is
the largest and most aggressive program like this we've ever had,' said one
senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity."
New York Times , November 17, 2002
"These roundups are not about protecting people in this country. These
attacks against young Muslim men are about getting people to go along with all
the repression against Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants and not oppose
any U.S. foreign wars and domestic repression, or, at a minimum, to be cowed
into silence by these attacks."
Fact sheet put out by the
Blue Triangle Network
This situation calls for mass and broad resistance. A statement from Not In
Our Name speaks to this: "NION calls on all people of conscience to stand in
solidarity with our Arab, Muslim and South Asian brothers and sisters by voicing
opposition to the `new normalcy' in creative, determined and daring ways. The
next deadline when boys and men from 13 more countries are required to register
is January 10th, 2003. We are calling on concerned citizens, organizations,
individuals, the religious community, students, anti-war activists, politicians,
business owners, teachers, union members, housewives and more!! Let the INS and
our Government know we are opposed to this outrageous and unjust `re-
registration' and the detentions and roundups of our friends, neighbors,
classmates, professors and co- workers."
In 1945, summing up the emergence of Nazi Germany, Pastor Martin Niemoeller
said, "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I
didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that
time no one was left to speak up."
Today, they are coming first for immigrants and it is crucial that people
speak up--and stop these attacks. We cannot afford to wait and see where
this is heading. Things have gone too far as it is. Now is the time to
"In 1939 we did not understand--we refused to believe--both out of ignorance
and a desire not to see... If only we had realized; if only we had understood;
if only we had been able to turn the historical tide back to the year 1939 we
should have shouted `Revolt at once!' For then we were at the height of our
strength. Then we were possessed of vigor and self-respect."
From the memoirs of Izhak Zuckerman,
one of the few surviving
leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker
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