Ten Caribbean nationals are among 548 other immigrants currently being detained by the U.S. Justice Department as suspects in the September 11th attack. According to a list released late last week by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, eight of the immigrants are nationals of Guyana while two are Trinidadians.
No names of any of those currently being held were released. Even officials of the Guyana and Trinidad missions in Washington, D.C., have reportedly not been told of the identities or arrest of their nationals, though the Vienna Convention requires that.
But the list does include the various deportable immigration violations the ten were picked up for. The offenses include overstaying their visas; entering the United States without inspection or via the “backtrack”; obtaining a visa fraudulently to enter the U.S.; not having a valid entry document; being inadmissible for entry/adjustment of status; and failure to maintain status, that is, entering as a student but not attending school.
Reports also indicate that some 11 more Guyanese are also in custody but because they were picked up carrying Indian passports they are being listed as Indians. According to the INS list, there are 16 Indians in custody.
Many Indo-Caribbean nationals bear strong resemblance to South Asians and Arabs because of their historic lineage and can easily fit the profile currently being passed around by the Justice Department. Many are also followers of Islam.
Other immigrants in custody include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Saudi Arabians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Yemenese, Lebanese and even a few from Africa including Sudan and Kenya.
The widespread arrest and interrogation of immigrants, especially Muslims, began almost immediately after September 11th as the administration moved toward tightening security within the borders. On October 26th, President George Bush signed the USA PATRIOT or the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism bill into law. The Act contains a number of significant immigration provisions. It authorizes increased resources for immigration enforcement and amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) relating to the detention and removal of aliens who engage in terrorist activities.
The new law also empowers the U.S. government to shift the primary mission of the FBI from solving crimes to gathering domestic intelligence. In addition, the Treasury Department has been charged with building a financial intelligence-gathering system whose data can be accessed by the CIA.
Most significantly, the CIA will for the first time, have the authority to influence FBI surveillance operations inside the United States and to obtain evidence gathered by federal grand juries and criminal wiretaps.
The law also allows the FBI to carry out wiretaps and searches that would otherwise be unconstitutional. Unlike regular FBI criminal wiretaps, the goal is to gather intelligence, not evidence. The new law also gives the CIA unprecedented access to the most powerful investigative weapon in the federal law enforcement’s arsenal: the federal grand jury. Grand juries have nearly unlimited power to gather evidence in secret, including testimony, wiretap transcripts, phone records, business records or medical records.
The new law permits allows the FBI to give grand jury information to the CIA without a court order, as long as the information concerns foreign intelligence or international terrorism. The information can also be shared widely throughout the national security establishment.
As a legal matter, the CIA is still prohibited from exercising domestic police powers or spying on U.S. citizens. However, its intelligence officers will work side by side with federal agents who do have arrest and domestic investigative authority.
The ongoing action by the Justice Department, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, has, however, met with opposition from several civil rights and immigrants advocacy groups. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the arrests, calling them “problematic for liberty in America.” The group announced the launch of a “Know Your Rights” telephone hotline on December 8th. The statewide hotline number is 1-888-597-4909, extension 17. Individuals calling the hotline can receive assistance 24-hours a day.
Callers are informed about the possibility of being detained or deported if, for example, the FBI determines that the individual has lied in the interview or has overstayed his visa. None of the advice given on the hotline, however, encourages non-cooperation with the investigation. The callers are advised to be careful but truthful in their answers. The national body has also created “Know Your Rights” pamphlets that are available on its Web site, www.aclu.org.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, was quoted on the site as saying, “We hope anyone who has information about the horrific events of September 11th would cooperate fully with authorities. Our concern, however, is that this dragnet investigation involves questioning by police of individuals whom federal officials acknowledge are not suspected of any wrongdoing.”