ACLU Calls Latest Immigrant Tracking Scheme Discriminatory and Ineffective

June 5, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that the latest Department of Justice plan to fingerprint and track immigrants and visitors to the United States is discriminatory and will inevitably be ineffective.

“The Bush Administration is, step by step, isolating Muslim and Arab communities both in the eyes of the government and the American public,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This latest move needs to be seen in the larger context of all the actions targeted at people of Middle Eastern descent since September 11.”

The ACLU’s comments come in response to reports today that Attorney General Ashcroft, with the support of the Administration, is planning to buck intense opposition from the State Department and announce a dramatic expansion in the tracking and registering of immigrants to the United States.

According to today’s New York Times, the plan would require hundreds of thousands of lawful visitors – including those already in the country — from a list of predominantly Muslim nations to provide fingerprints to authorities upon arrival and register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service after 30 days in the country. Visitors who fail to do either of these things face fines or even deportation.

The ACLU has long opposed immigrant registration laws, saying that they treat immigrant populations as a separate and quasi-criminal element of society and that they create an easy avenue for surveillance of those who may hold unpopular beliefs.

Also of concern is the improbability that the scheme will do anything to increase safety. Terrorists will simply find ways to circumvent the registration process either by simply not reporting to the INS or by entering the U.S. from a country outside the coverage of the tracking proposal, the ACLU said.

“It’s pretty obvious that this plan won’t work at anything except allowing the government to essentially ‘pick on’ people who haven’t done anything wrong but happen to come from the Administration’s idea of the wrong side of the global tracks,” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

“Selective enforcement of any law based on unchangeable characteristics like race, ethnicity or national origin is at its core un-American,” he added.

The fingerprinting and tracking proposal is only the latest Bush Administration action targeted at Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent since September 11. Other discriminatory measures have included round-ups, dragnet questioning, the detention of more than a thousand young men and the targeting of Middle Eastern communities for heightened enforcement of minor immigration law violations.

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