Critics Say Immigration Tactics Threaten Security; Crackdown Aliens U.S. Muslim Community. (at War)

Article excerpt

Heavy-handed enforcement of immigration laws designed to unearth terrorist cells within U.S. Muslim communities is backfiring and makes Americans more susceptible to attack, according to some immigration and national security experts.

That critique of the ongoing crackdown on Middle Easterners who overstay visas or who otherwise violate U.S. immigration laws is widely shared by civil libertarians and advocates for the undocumented, who argue that the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service's approach to apprehending terrorists within U.S. borders is wrongheaded. (In March, the functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service were subsumed into the Department of Homeland Security under two new bureaus: the Border and Transportation Security Directorate and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.)

But another voice in the debate is being increasingly heard: Security experts who warn that the government is missing the terrorist forest for the immigration trees.

Secret detentions, deportations and registration requirements targeted to cit caused a great deal of fear and reinforced the tendency of immigrant communities to huddle together and not trust authorities, which works against intelligence gathering by law enforcement, particularly the FBI," said Vincent Cannistraro, former director of Counterterrorism Operations and Analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency.

"The idea that you stigmatize whole classes of people and profile them because you think this is going to prevent the next terrorist attack is exactly the wrong way [to go about it]," Cannistraro told NCR. "There may very well be another clandestine al-Qaeda cell in North America, but none of these methodologies has contributed to identifying them," Cannistraro said.

Critics of the administration's approach point to more than 60 administrative actions taken by the Justice Department and the INS over the past 19 months, including expanded detention without charges, closed immigration hearings, coordinated arrests of illegal aliens working at airports and other sensitive security sites, and a gag order that prevents state authorities from releasing information on detainees.

As a recent part of the government's effort, foreign-born, non-citizen males age 16 or over from countries considered high-risk terrorist exporters must register at "a designated immigration office." The deadline for Pakistani and Saudi Arabian males was March 21, while citizens of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait have until April 25. Those registering will be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed under oath, according to the immigration officials.

Rather than face deportation, hundreds of non-residents who have overstayed their visas--most of them natives of Pakistan--have applied to Canada for refugee status. They are being assisted and housed by the Salvation Army in Vermont.

The rationale for the crackdown was stated by Attorney General John Ashcroft soon after Sept. 11: "Aggressive detention of lawbreakers and material witnesses is vital to preventing, disrupting or delaying new attacks. It is difficult for a person in jail or under detention to murder innocent people or to aid or abet in terrorism."

And there are those who say the Ashcroft approach hasn't gone far enough. "The immigration measures taken since 9/11 are small steps in the right direction, for the most part, but remain woefully inadequate," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "Immigration enforcement is one of the best tools for tripping up terrorists because if you are coming here to commit an act of terrorism and your visa expires, you're not going to say, `Oh, my visa expired and I have to go back to my home country and give up my dreams of terrorism.' You're going to do whatever it takes, even if it includes violating immigration law. …