Sunday, November 14, 2004

RACIAL PROFILING AND CIVIL RIGHTS

By William Fisher

Policies of the Bush Administration have “facilitated” racial profiling, despite the President’s vow to eliminate the practice.

This is the view of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission’s report was posted on its website in September, but the four Bush-appointed Commission members delayed public discussion of its findings until after the election.

The report charges that after the September 11, 2001, attacks, “Arab Americans and Muslims increasingly became targets of law enforcement scrutiny. Law enforcement officials’ underlying prejudices and presumptions of guilt tainted routine security procedures. Profiling criteria came to include ethnicity, national origin, and religion…heightened scrutiny and harassment at airports (and) selective enforcement of visa regulations. Arab Americans and Muslims complained that airline personnel and airport security denied them access to aircraft and subjected them to unwarranted searches and harassment. In some instances, airport security removed individuals from planes because members of the crew or passengers did not ‘feel safe.’ On a larger scale, profiling resulted in detentions, forced registration, and extensive monitoring of persons of Middle Eastern descent.”

The Commission’s Report was critical of a number of Federal agencies, principally the Department of Justice (DOJ), which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS includes the Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible safety at airports and for other modes of transportation, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The DOJ is headed by the Attorney General.

The Human Rights Commission is an independent agency of the Federal Government. Four of its eight Commissioners are appointed by the President and four by Congress. No more than four members can belong to the same political party. Currently, the Commission consists of three Democrats, three Republicans, and two Independents. Its principal mission is to collect information relating to discrimination or a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice.
Defining racial profiling as “the act of assuming that individuals of one race or ethnicity are more likely than others to engage in misconduct”, the Commission declares that “The concept belies the fundamental tenets of equality in the Constitution, as the Fifth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit selective enforcement of the law based on race.”

Its report states: “After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, securing the nation’s borders became the administration’s most urgent job. Among responses, President Bush authorized federal officials to round up hundreds of Arabs, Muslims, and Arab Americans as material witnesses in its investigation of the attacks and detain them on minor immigration violations. Arab and Muslim immigrants and visitors were identified as a ‘dangerous class’, signaling the government’s intention to deny them entry into the country whenever possible. America’s borders thus became more tightly controlled, and certain immigrants bore the burden of the administration’s policies.”

The Commission found that by November 2001, “the DOJ had detained more than 1,100 men of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. DOJ did not reveal who it had detained, the reasons for detention, nor where detainees were held, not even to their families. Many detainees alleged mistreatment by prison guards, including being hosed down with cold water, strip searched, forced to sleep upright in freezing conditions, denied food or legal representation, and kept in their cells for long periods.

Since 9/11, the FBI and the USCIS have arrested and detained some 5,000 people on ‘terror-related’ charges. There have been no convictions. However, many detainees have been deported, most of them for minor visa violations.

The DOJ’s own Inspector General (IG) also issued a report (April 2003) highly critical of the treatment of detainees. "While our review recognized the enormous challenges and difficult circumstances confronting the Department in responding to the terrorist attacks”, the IG’s report said, “we found significant problems in the way the detainees were handled." It claimed that from December 2001 to June 2002, 34 complaints of civil rights violations, including accusations that employees at federal detention centers had beaten Muslim and Arab immigrants, were filed. In all, DOJ received 1,073 complaints during the six-month period following the implementation of the Patriot Act.”

In a press statement issued November 9, Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), lays much of the responsibility for racial profiling and other civil rights abuses at the feet of just-retired Attorney General John Ashcroft. Romero says “Ashcroft's legacy has been an open hostility to protecting civil liberties and an outright disdain for those who dare to question his policies. (He) has insisted that the U.S. government could unilaterally detain American citizens without charge and access to counsel.” The ACLU is a Washington-based human rights advocacy group.

President Bush has nominated White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace Ashcroft, who resigned last week. Gonzales is the author of a controversial memorandum to President Bush suggesting ways the United States could legally deprive detainees designated as ‘enemy combatants’ the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales described international conventions governing prisoners of war, including the Geneva Conventions, as ''obsolete.''

The administration’s policies also affected immigrants and visitors already in the United States, the report says. “When the USA Patriot Act was signed into law on October 27, 2001, the attorney general was given the authority to detain foreign citizens if believing that they pose a national security threat.”

The Commission’s Report claims that, while, “detentions were reserved for those believed to be a national security threat, other Arab and Muslim immigrants were also viewed with suspicion.” In November 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft ordered the “voluntary” interviews of approximately 5,000 men, ages 18 to 33, “who had entered the United States with nonimmigrant visas from countries suspected of giving refuge to terrorists These men were not suspects in the attacks, but interviewers were told to ask about their religious practices, feelings towards the U.S. government, and immigration status.”

Moreover, the Report adds, “Because the men interviewed were all of Middle Eastern and South Asian ancestry, critics of the policy accused the government of participating in racial and ethnic profiling. Interviewees were disturbed by the government’s unabashed willingness to use ancestry as a proxy for terrorism. Despite their feelings, many acquiesced to the request believing the government would monitor them if they did not.”

The detention and subsequent deportation of many Arab and Muslim visitors has created a firestorm in the civil rights community. Nonetheless, provisions for ‘expedited deportation” remain in the House of Representatives’ version of intelligence reform legislation. The House and Senate are currently attempting to reconcile their different versions of this proposed legislation.

The report concludes that “changes to the nation’s policies under the Bush administration have left immigrants unprotected and unfairly treated. New immigration policies have created a dual system of rights and protections based largely on national origin, race, and ethnicity.” It urges: “The circumstances the United States now faces must not close the once open doors of a nation founded by immigrants.”








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