Rights and Liberties This Week: Damned If You Do...

The biggest story this week was the detention of up to 2500 legal immigrants who voluntary complied with a federal request to check in with INS and were then summarily strip searched, interrogated, and jailed. The round up of predominantly Iranian men barely made national news. In Los Angeles, there were so many arrests, INS reportedly ran out of handcuffs.

The new Department of Justice initiative requires male immigrants over the age of sixteen from twenty countries to submit to fingerprints, photographs, and background checks. This is in addition to the fingerprinting, photographing, and security checking that was done when they legally entered the country. People who fail to submit to this additional registration face immediate arrest and deportation. The initiative affects thousands of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Armenia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

The ACLU and the Council on American Islamic Relations say they have been swamped by calls from families of immigrants seeking help."It is really a bad way to go about it," said Sabiha Khan of the Council. "Terrorists most likely wouldn't come to the INS to register."

On Wednesday, thousands gathered in Los Angeles to protest the arrests. Holding signs such as "What Next? Internment Camps?" they demanded the release of their friends and relatives. The INS has refused to say exactly how many people have been arrested or what were the charges against them.

But there were some little victories this week. After 31 years of trying, New York state senators finally passed a bill that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill is a good example of the general upside down trend in Republican/Democratic politics lately. The Republican-controlled senate took up the bill and the Republican governor of the State, George Pataki, said he was "looking forward" to signing the bill into law. Of course, those nice Republicans wouldn’t want to go too far; a proposed amendment Tuesday to add protections for transgendered people -- ranging from cross-dressers to people undergoing sex-change procedures -- failed.

And a bittersweet victory: the five men arrested in the Central Park Jogger rape case in 1989 had their convictions thrown out and were released--after spending five to thirteen years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.

Heroes of the Week

First, Damon J. Keith, Federal Judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, who wrote the decision that immigration hearings can not be held in secret. "An informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment," he wrote. "Democracies die behind closed doors."

And Sergio Vieria de Mello, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights who was hired to replace the outspoken Mary Robinson, seems to be following her lead. de Mello held a press conference this week stating that the U.S.-led ``war on terror'' was hurting human rights and exacerbating prejudices around the world. He said that internationally governments have evoked Bush’s "war on terror" to justify violating human rights. The U.S. had no official response to de Mello’s comments.

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