Immigrant Roundup Backfired, Finds Report
WASHINGTON -- Measures taken by the U.S. against Arab and Muslim immigrants after 9/11 have not only failed to protect U.S. security, but may have made it more vulnerable, according to a major report released last week.
The round-up and detention of more than 1,200 immigrants after the attacks on New York and Washington were particularly abusive, says the report by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI) an influential think tank.
It said the government's efforts to depict some of those who were detained as terrorists were simply wrong. The only charges brought against them were actually for routine immigration violations or ordinary crimes, concludes the 165-page report, America's Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties and National Unity After September 11.
''Many of the policies that have been adopted in the wake of Sept. 11 are an attempt to use immigration as a proxy for anti-terrorism,'' said Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counter-terrorism official in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who is on MPI's board of advisers and helped prepare the report.
''We haven't learned anything about pre-empting terrorism in America, but we have intimidated, antagonized and alienated many (minority) communities (which is) counter-productive to what the FBI and other agencies are trying to do, he added at the report's release.
What breakthroughs have been made in identifying and apprehending terrorists have been the result of traditional police and intelligence work and co-operation and information-sharing with foreign intelligence agencies, not from any of the immigration initiatives taken by the administration, says the report, which also includes the most comprehensive compilation of the individuals detained after 9/11 and their experiences.
''Arresting a large number of non-citizens ... only gives the nation a false sense of security,'' the document added.
The report is likely to be taken seriously. The MPI's advisory board members include the last two commissioners of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): James Ziglar, who just served in the current administration; and Doris Meissner, INS head under former President Bill Clinton. Meissner co-authored the report.
In addition to Cannistraro, it also includes Mary Jo White, who, as a former U.S. attorney in the southern federal district of New York, gained a reputation as a tough and relentless prosecutor in high-profile terrorism cases.
The report also coincided with news that the Justice Department's inspector general (IG) is investigating possible abuses by federal prison guards in Brooklyn against immigrants detained there.
In a widely noted report released earlier this month, the IG found ''significant problems'' in the way federal officials dealt with the post-Sep. 11 roundups. Dozens of detainees were subject to verbal and physical abuse by guards at the facility, where they were left to languish in ''unduly harsh'' conditions for months, some without access to family members or attorneys, it said.
The MPI report, whose scope is broader than the plight of the detainees, nonetheless ''puts flesh on the bones of the IG's report'', according to David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who also contributed to the document.
It found, for example, that, unlike the Sept. 11 hijackers, the majority of those detained had significant ties to the United States and roots in their communities here. Of the detainees on which relevant information was available, almost half had lived in this country for at least six years and had close family relationships here.
The report examines the government's post-9/11 immigration measures from three distinct perspectives -- their effectiveness in actually fighting terrorism; their impact on civil liberties; and their effect on America's sense of community as a nation of immigrants. In each case, it concludes that the administration's policies were largely counter-productive.
The key to fighting terrorism, according to the report, is focusing on improved intelligence, information and information sharing; better and more targeted border protection; vigorous intelligence-based law enforcement; and engagement with Arab- and Muslim-American communities.
''We believe it is possible to use immigration measures more effectively to defend against terrorism, while also protecting the fundamental liberties at the core of American identity,'' Meissner said.
The latest raids follow an established pattern in U.S. history, according to the report. During the McCarthy era in the 1950s, Congress enacted strong anti-immigration measures while, during the ''Red Scare'' that followed World War I, the attorney general at the time, A. Mitchell Palmer, ordered thousands of immigrants rounded up and detained without due process.
During national security crises, Washington has often followed ''the course of least resistance'', according to Cole, who noted that immigrants are particularly vulnerable to abuses at such times.
But the greatest harm to U.S. anti-terrorist efforts in this case has been the impact of the administration's harsh measures on Arab- and Muslim-American communities, says the report. Programs such as requiring special registration by males from certain countries carried out last year has discouraged co-operation with law-enforcement agencies, in part because they became a vehicle for sweeping up those with minor immigration violations.
At the same time, the alienation and persecution felt by the same communities immediately after Sept. 11 have also had the unintended effect over time of reaffirming their identity as Muslims and Arabs in the United States, according to Muzaffar Chishti, an MPI senior fellow and co-author.
''The experience of Muslim and Arab communities post-Sept. 11 is, in many ways, an impressive story of a community that first felt intimidated, but has since started to assert its place in the American body politic,'' he said.
But Cannistraro stressed that the administration's ham-handed attack on immigrant communities had also taken a heavy toll on its image in the immigrants' homelands overseas.
''If anything, we have painted an image of us as a narrow, biased society that really believes in the Clash of Civilizations,'' he said, singling out Attorney General John Ashcroft as especially responsible. ''It serves us poorly abroad, and it has provided ammunition to some of the fiery imams who encourage young people (to sacrifice) themselves.''
Jim Lobe is frequent contributor to Inter Press Service and AlterNet.org