Is This Really Happening?

Is this really happening? Or is it only a nightmare? The INS in Los Angeles, California and in other states, detained hundreds of Middle-Eastern Muslim and Jewish men and boys yesterday. These are the people who came forward to the INS’ call to register. And their hands were handcuffed with a thank you note. Is it the anticipated Christmas gift from the Santa?

An unconfirmed report says that more than 2500 people were arrested in the last few days. INS has flatly denied revealing the number of people in custody. INS spokesman Mr. Arcauate said that those men detained yesterday had violated the immigration laws. He sited example of overstaying visa, wanted for crimes, etc. If these are the reasons, why does the INS not arrest millions of illegal Mexicans or other foreign nationals who constitute the majority of illegal immigration problem in America? When Bush strongly denies that America is not against the peaceful minority immigrants or their faith, does the selective apprehension of Muslims and Jews conform to the President’s wishes?

Director of American Civil Liberty Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project comments, “Given the evidence, there is no alarmism in saying this is a round-up, Attorney General Ashcroft is using the immigrant registration program to lock up people who already have provided extensive information as part of their green card applications. Therefore the purpose is clearly not to get information but rather to selectively arrest, detain and deport Middle Eastern and Muslim men in the United States.” [2]

Why is this selectivity? Why is this deception? Do the real terrorists ever go to the INS office for registration? Terrorists are shrewd and clever. But the innocent people are not. They have trusted INS’ proposal completely. They have followed their government’s direction. And in return they were thrown into the crowded jails. Sabiha Khan of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations said, “Terrorists most likely wouldn’t come to the INS to register. It is really a bad way to go about it. They are being treated as criminals and that really goes against American ideals of fairness, and justice and democracy” [1]

American ideals and fairness are on the line. American concept of justice and democracy are in jeopardy. These Muslims and Jews who have fled their native governments’ oppressive regimes, who wanted to rebuild their life in American freedom and American liberty, are denied their dreams, their aspirations. These Muslims and Jews from Iran know how violent and anti-democratic their theocratic orthodox regime is. These Muslims and Jews from other middle-eastern nations know how their basic human rights are mocked at by the extremist mullahs and their religious police and surrogates. These are the reasons they have abandoned their beloved homeland. These are the reasons they have embraced America, the nation built by the immigrants and for the immigrants, as their destination. And now the same America has incarcerated them without providing a fair chance.

ACLU reports that in most cases, it is apparent that the INS arrested men who were simply waiting for approval of their green card applications, or those with minor visa problems caused by incompetence in the agency itself, which has been plagued by an inept bureaucracy for years. [2] ACLU sites an example: “the agency recently failed to process more than 200,000 change of address forms and then unceremoniously dumped them in the largest underground records facility in the world – an abandoned mine near Kansas City – putting hundreds of thousands at risk of wrongful arrest and deportation for failing to report a change of address.” [2]

This is only one example of INS’ inept bureaucracy and ineptitude for years. Who can be certain that there are no more reprehensible INS failures waiting to be discovered tomorrow? And these Muslim and Jewish men and boys are selectively put into jail to pay for their mistakes. What kind of fair justice is this?

Hundreds of men and women of Middle-Eastern origins have arranged a protest today. Most of them were the relatives and friends of these unfairly incarcerated men. They claim that their husbands, sons and brothers were victims of government entrapment that they were forced to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then were arrested for not having their papers in order, which in some cases were caused by government backlog. [3] These protesters were carrying colorful posters with the following signs: “What Next? Concentration Camps?” and “Detain Terrorists Not the Innocent Immigrants.” [3]

“Detain terrorists not the innocent immigrants”. These are the fair words. These are the words being overlooked in the recent days in the uncontrolled wastages of U.S. government resources in the fights against terrorists and terrorism. ACLU’s Ms. Dalia Hashad correctly observes, “It seems unlikely that a hardened terrorist is going to voluntarily register with the government.” [2] Terrorists are trained and paid by their masters. They must be having a good laugh at the INS’ ineptitude.

The frightening part is that now the INS has shown its blatant sharpened teeth, how many law-abiding Muslims or Jews of these middle-eastern nations would retain trust in INS? Why would they bother in registering when the looming threat of incarceration hangs in the vicinity? And the startling observation Ms. Hashad made is that INS will use the non-registration by the frightened immigrants as the reason to deport them. This has become a double sword for the Muslims and the Jews. If they comply with the INS directives they get arrested. And if they don’t show up because of their immeasurable fear, they will be apprehended anyway and deported to their lands of oppression.

These arrested men were kept in the detention centers in “absolutely horrible condition”. [4] Iranian-American lawyer Sohelia Jonoubi told the Reuters news agency that these detained men 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,” Jonoubi said. [4]

Already there are concerned men and women around the world who are murmuring whether this is only a prelude to widespread detention of pre-selected immigrants from certain ethnic or religious background. Lucas Guttentag is one of them. He heads the West Coast Office of the American Civil Liberties Uninion’s Immigrant Rights Project. He fears the wave of arrests is “a prelude to much more widespread arrests and deportations. The secrecy gives rise to obvious concerns about what the INS is doing and whether people’s rights are being respected and whether the problems that arose in the aftermath of 9/11 are being repeated now.” he said. [6]

In the fight against the vicious terrorists and terrorism, rebuilding the broken trusts among all the immigrant groups and the U.S. government is absolutely necessary. Bush, Powell and other high level U.S. officials have taken positive steps in the recent days when they publicly repudiated Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other bigotry filled leaders’ abusive comments against peaceful Islam and Muslim. Vengeful comments against the innocent Jews and Judaism by David Duke and other bigots are condemned repeatedly by the present administration and the media. And still, Ashcroft leaded deception filled entrapment of innocent immigrants can only make American minorities more doubtful about their government’s motive and intention.

“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – as Patrick Henry uttered these powerful words in March 23, 1775 during the wake of American revolution, distressed immigrants have chosen America over persecution, suspicion and death from their respective nations. In the jingling of holiday celebration, these American minority immigrants deserve liberty not incarceration.

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. He can be contacted through the following email address:

2. ACLU, “Rounded UP“, December 19, 2002,


4. “U.S. Accused of Entrapment in Immigrant Arrests“, CTV News, December 19, 2002.

5. Picture Reference

6. Megan Garvey, Martha Groves and Henry Weinstein, “Hundreds are held after visit to INS“, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2002.