ACLU Criticizes Government's New "Dragnet" Plan to Interview Recent Foreign Visitors to U.S.

March 4, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized a new Justice Department plan to interview thousands of men who entered the country on non-immigrant visas in the last two years.

“”This sort of dragnet approach is most likely to magnify fears about racial and ethnic profiling, especially given the government’s continued refusal to release even the most basic information about the hundreds of people already in detention,”” said Steven R. Shapiro, National Legal Director of the ACLU.

The Justice Department said today that it has compiled a list of at least 5,000 foreigners — all men ages 18 to 33 — who entered the United States on non-immigrant visas from January 1, 2000 to the present. The list of names has been sent to the 94 U.S. attorneys offices, who will then divide up the list with local police and others on anti-terrorist task forces.

“”The government should be encouraging those with information to come forward, rather than alienating the very people whose cooperation is key to this important investigation,”” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Many people in the immigrant and Muslim community already view federal law enforcement with distrust in the wake of the government’s refusal to release basic information about the people being held since September 11, he noted.

In response, the ACLU and a coalition of civil liberties, human rights and electronic privacy organizations filed Freedom of Information Act requests for information about the individuals arrested or detained — — including whether they have access to attorneys and the nature of the charges brought against them.

To date, the FBI has denied the groups’ request, while requests to the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Services have so far gone unanswered. An appeal to the FBI denial was filed on November 9, which is required before going to court.

The ACLU said that the Justice Department’s dragnet plan is but the latest in a series of troubling “”power grabs”” that put law enforcement at odds with the Constitution. On Friday, the ACLU spoke out in opposition to a plan to allow government to listen in on conversations between attorneys and their clients in prison.

“”The Attorney General has claimed an enormous amount of power to act unilaterally without meaningful judicial oversight,”” said Shapiro. “”Congress now has an obligation to exercise some oversight and control.””

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