The news is pouring in. Hundreds of select foreign nationals who have complied with the new INS regulations and reported for registration and fingerprinting to INS offices have been promptly arrested and placed in detention. While some have been released on bails of $1000 to $15000, the fate of many others is unclear. Even the number of arrested is a big question mark. By some estimates, there has been over 700 arrests in Los Angeles area alone. But INS is refusing to report the number of detainees, and most families are keeping quiet about the arrest of their loved ones, fearing reprisals if they speak up. I spoke to one detainee in Los Angeles area who had witnessed many people in handcuffs and shackles, including a 70-year-old man! There are many horror stories going around, and unfortunately most seem to be true. This is truly nauseating!
I remember about five years ago I was reading a book for my son. It was about the Japanese-Americans internment in the U.S.. I was explaining to him how mistakes were made and that later the government apologized for them, and I was wondering what he feels about this? Little did I know that a few years down the road our government was going to make the same mistakes again, and that this time immigrants from my homeland Iran will also be affected!
Most of the arrested people have been living in the U.S. for many years now. They have families, jobs (with work authorizations), and are hard-working and peaceful people. Their only “crimes” are being born in the “wrong” countries and being out of status, that is not having a current visa. But this is nothing new. This has been a tolerated and accepted practice by INS to allow people who have applied for permanent residency to stay in the U.S. until they receive an interview date from INS and receive their permanent residency (green card). And these people have naturally been in regular contact with INS and have been here with the full knowledge of INS. These people in a way were given a virtual amnesty until their case is processed by INS.
Now INS is suddenly doing a 180 turn and reversing the old practice. There are two problems with this. First, only nationals of certain countries, mostly Islamic ones, have been subjected to the new regulations. This will naturally taint the new regulations as racist and discriminatory. Second, the regulations cover foreign national from these countries present in the U.S., including those who have previously been given the virtual amnesty. Once again, this will taint the new regulations as unjust and inhuman.
Since the INS has allowed these people to stay in U.S. and to build families, the United States is now obligated to protect these families rather than doing something that will ruin them. Like many other rules, this rule must not be applied retroactively because it will unfairly affect people following past accepted rules and practices. Lives of thousands of innocent people will be affected if these new regulations are applied retroactively. And there will be waves of fear and hatred in the immigrant communities. It’s ironic that the very fear of persecution that many people in these communities have witnessed and experienced in their own homeland is now coming back to them, but this time in the country they viewed as “free” and “just” and where they chose to make a new life.
This travesty of justice is being directly driven by the highest authorities in the Justice Department. John Ashcroft should be personally held accountable for heading these efforts that could ruin the lives of innocent families, by some estimates numbering over 10,000. This and other similar actions will not lead us to a more secure America. They would rather lead to another disgraceful past left for generations to come who will have to bear the shame and the guilt, just as our generation has been doing in the case of Japanese-Americans.
ALI MOAYEDIAN is an Iranian-American who lives in San Francisco Bay Area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.