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Seattle Somali Community Speaks Out

by Omar Jamal Wednesday, Jan. 08, 2003 at 6:56 AM
shabeelj@yahoo.com 651-917-0383 1050 Selby Ave. St. Paul, MN 55401

In response to indefinite detentions, deportations and growing racist attacks, Somali Community leaders in Seattle are joined by the Hate Free Zone and Somali Justice Advocacy Center to bring attention to this international human rights situation.

Seattle Somali Community Speaks Out

by Omar Jamal 3:39pm Mon Jan 6 '03

address: 1050 Selby Ave. St. Paul MN 55401 phone: 651-917-0383 shabeelj@yahoo.com

The Hate Free Zone is joined by Somali Community Leaders in Seattle and Omar Jamal of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center at a press conference focusing on recent detentions, deportations and growing racist attacks against the Somali American Community. This is the first event of the National Tour against Hate.

Tuesday, January 7, 3:30 P.M. - National Tour Against Hate

Rainier Community Center - 4600 38th Ave S. Seattle WA - The Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington welcomes Omar Jamal, Executive Director of Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, to speak on the attacks on Somalis around the nation. In Lewiston, Maine, a hate group based in Illinois is taking advantage of the Mayor’s unwelcoming attitude to stage a meeting in that city. Hundreds will protest the racists’ presence in their town. In Minnesota, the Somali community has suffered numerous hate crimes, detention and an illegal deportation. Seattle Somalis have also experienced vicious hate crimes and alienation in our own city, and at least one secret roundup and detention. The Somali Community invites you to hear from Omar, Mohamed Accord of Seattle’s Somali Society Services and Abdulkadir Hassan of Somali Services in Seattle on the climate of fear and the need to organize support nationally. Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington will speak about the class action suit brought against INS nationwide to stop illegal deportations of Somalis.



Contact Information:

Liza Wilcox

Telephone: 2067232203 Email: liza@hatefreezone.org



NATIONAL TOUR AGAINST HATE

Somali Justice Advocacy Center

1050 Selby Ave., St. Paul MN 55401

Tel: 651-917-0383 Fax: 651-917-0379

Press Contact: Omar Jamal (612) 239-7318, Shabeelj@yahoo.com

You sign for a package and the delivery man arrests you. You are driving

a car for your rental company and are charged with stealing it. You are granted

asylum by a judge but are thrown in jail instead. Your community center is

targeted for arson. Your store is vandalized with hate speech. The government

wants to fingerprint and interrogate you. You are attacked in the streets.

Racists hold rallies to call for your expulsion.

What have you done? You are guilty of being a Somali-American during the

“War on Terrorism”.

In the 1990’s, immigrants and refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war were welcomed

into the United States and have had the chance to rebuild their lives and

work toward a better future for their families. Since the tragedy of 9/11,

however, Somalis in America have seen dozens of their compatriots detained

and deported illegally while facing a growing tide of intimidation by hate

groups. In addition to these threats, Somali-Americans face the same threat

of terrorism all Americans face. The Somali Justice Advocacy Center is embarking

upon the “Tour Against Hate” to ask the American people and their government

to continue the American traditions of tolerance and civil rights.

INS

Interacting with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is a fact

of life for immigrant people. Since 9/11, however, Somalis have had good

reasons to fear the INS. Last October, two Somali wire-transfer companies

in Minneapolis were raided by the Customs Service and FBI, who claimed the

businesses were being used to fund al-Qaida. No charges were ever brought,

and the business owners were eventually cleared, although their assets are

still frozen. This past fall, 30 Somalis were suddenly and illegally deported

to Somalia, where one was soon murdered. At the Minneapolis airport, a Somali

man working for a rental car company was charged with driving a stolen vehicle

after police pulled him over while he ferried a rental car back to the lot.

He found himself in INS detention. Abdul, a Kenyan man, was taken in to INS

detention, where he was allowed to apply for asylum. A judge granted him

asylum, but instead of setting him free, the state INS director sent him

back to detention.

More recently, the INS embarked on a campaign to interview, fingerprint,

and, if necessary, detain male nonimmigrants from specific countries as dictated

by the Justice Department. In a second round, Somali was named as 1 of 13

Justice Department targeted countries. Currently, nonimmigrants from 20

countries

are obligated to fulfill these Justice Department directives. When people

from the first five countries were required to register by December 17, 2002,

hundreds were detained for days because of minor paperwork problems, and

released only after protests from civil rights organizations. In Los Angeles,

men not charged with any crime were handcuffed and some were forced to sleep

on concrete floors because the INS did not have the capacity to process them.

The registration deadline for nationals of the next 13 countries, including

Somalia, is January 10. With the INS soon to become part of the Office of

Homeland Security, the INS has not demonstrated that it can carry out this

registration in a way that does not unjustly detain innocent people.

National security and combating terrorism are high priorities for the Somali

community and any peace-loving nation. However, national security does not

include only tracking, investigating and prosecuting terrorists, but respect

for the rule of law as sanctioned by Congress as representatives of the people.

U.S. law allows deportations to nations that have a recognized government.

Somalia, unfortunately, does not. Yet it took the judiciary to halt deportations

to Somalia. In November, Judge Marsha Pechman of Seattle ordered a temporary

restraining order against the INS, barring the deportation of five Somali

men. In December, federal District Judge Robert James issued a temporary

restraining order halting the deportation of eight Minnesota Somali men who

had been sent to INS detention in Louisiana.

Hate Groups

Unfortunately, official harassment is not the only threat our community faces.

Hate crimes against Somali-Americans are on the rise and organized hate groups

have begun to target our community. Soon after 9/11, a Somali senior citizen

in Minneapolis died from injuries he received in a racially motivated beating.

In St. Cloud, Minnesota, Somali stores have been vandalized with anti-Somali

graffiti and arsonists are suspected of setting fire to a small building

behind the Somali cultural center. Anti-Somali threats and discrimination

are on the rise nationally, making it more difficult for Somalis to get jobs

and support their families.

We are visiting Lewiston, Maine to support the embattled Somali community

there. About 1,100 Somalis have come to Lewiston, fleeing the situation in

Somalia and the difficulties they have found in larger American cities. While

most citizens of Lewiston have been friendly and supportive, others have

decided to make the Somali people scapegoat for the city’s economic problems.

Without first approaching the Somali community with his concerns, this past

fall the mayor sent an “open letter” to the Somali community asking that they

“practice responsibility” and discourage any more Somalis from coming to

Lewiston.

The mayor has since expressed regret that his letter was “misinterpreted,”

but the controversy caused several white supremacist groups, such as the

Illinois-based World Church of the Creator and the National Alliance, to

rally anti-Somali sentiment. The National Alliance has created a web site

to “save Lewiston,” and Matt Hale, the “Pontifex Maximus” of the World Church

of the Creator, will speak in Lewiston on January 11 on "The Invasion of

Maine by Somalis and How We Can End It.” Although both are small,

anti-Christian,

anti-Semitic white supremacist organizations, we hope that their hateful

speech does not lead to hateful actions.

More mainstream purveyors of prejudice have picked our community as a target

for their bile. Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine’s November 18th

cover featured “The Great Somali Welfare Hunt.” Does Mr. Buchanan imagine that

our tragic civil war was merely a pretext for coming to America to collect

welfare?

The fact is that the economic problems of Lewiston are not caused by Somali

immigrants. In the spirit of “free trade,” corporations have moved many local

jobs to countries with cheaper labor costs. The federal government is providing

subsidies to help the city cope with the special needs of the Somali community.

Somalis are hardworking people who contribute to the economy of Lewiston

and look forward to contributing even more once we are able to better adjust

to our new lives in America.

American Traditions

Somalis began to come to the U.S. in large numbers in 1991, when Somalia

was enveloped by a brutal civil war. Like other immigrants throughout American

history, we looked for freedom and a better life. Like other immigrants,

we settled near our relatives in order that we could support each other and

find a way to survive in this new land. Although struggling with a new language,

new customs and the emotional scars of war, most of us have found jobs and

have begun to resume normal lives. We work hard to support our families here

and send money back to family in Somalia or refugee camps in Kenya.

Since 9/11, we have joined another American tradition: the struggle for civil

rights. Inspired by the examples of the struggles of women, working people

and ethnic minorities, we too are demanding that we receive equal protection

under the law. Like African-Americans and Jewish-Americans continue to do,

we are standing up to the hate groups who would drive us out and are greatly

encouraged by the support of so many of our neighbors. We are hopeful that

people have learned from the mistakes of the past, and America will continue

to fulfill its promise of freedom and democracy for all.

The Somali Justice Advocacy Center works in Minneapolis and St. Paul, home

to 30,000 Somalis (the largest concentration outside Somalia). People of

the Twin Cities see Somalis working throughout the city, many in jobs few

Americans want. The federal government grants asylum to refugees, but it

is the local community which must provide the resources to integrate refugees

into the community. Somali-Americans want to work, start businesses, and

contribute to their new communities. We hope that the federal government

can continue to help communities like Lewiston make use of the energy and

intelligence of their new residents to build stronger local economies.

Conclusion

Fingerprinting, interviewing and indexing entire races or nationalities are

not hallmarks of an open and democratic society. The Somali Justice Advocacy

Center calls upon the INS to delay and reconsider the registration of Somalis,

to release innocent detainees from jail, and to obey the law and cease

deportations

to Somalia. Preventing terrorism required cooperation and communication,

not detentions and intimidation. We call upon all government agencies to

remember that the Constitution protects non-citizens as well as citizens.

If the federal government thinks Somalis have information useful for the

prevention of terrorism, it must follow the lead of many Americans and build

bridges to our community.

Mayor Raymond needs to live up to his duties as Mayor of Lewiston. We call

upon him to apologize to the Somali community for his letter, to stage a

public event to officially welcome Somali-Americans to Lewiston and to commit

to fair treatment of the Somali population by the city government. We call

upon city leaders to work with the Somali community to build a prosperous

economy for everyone in Lewiston. Finally, we thank the American people for

welcoming us and supporting us, and ask that they continue to do so in our

hour of need.



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