ACLU of lllinois and Local Lawyers Offer Free Legal Advice to Iraqis Targeted for FBI Interviews

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
March 18, 2003 12:00 am

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CHICAGO — A coalition of Chicago-area legal organizations moved quickly today to open a telephone hotline and to mobilize volunteer lawyers offering free legal services for Iraqi Americans and Iraqi immigrants designated for questioning by the U.S. Department of Justice as the Bush Administration prepares to take military action in Iraq.

“People targeted for investigation are undoubtedly in need of legal counsel,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “It is in the highest tradition of the American bar that these organizations and attorneys step forward and offer their services without compensation to these individuals. In so doing, these attorneys also fulfill our fundamental constitutional values.”

Recent media reports indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation — working in connection with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Homeland Security Department — plans to utilize as many as 5,000 federal agents across the nation as part of a plan to question more than 10,000 Iraqis living in the United States.

The plan is reminiscent of a program conducted by the Justice Department in late 2001, in which the Department attempted to locate and interview 5,000 men between the ages of 18 and 33 who entered the United States on non-immigrant visas, primarily from Middle Eastern nations.

Representatives from the ACLU of Illinois, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Chicago Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Muslim Bar Association and the Muslim Civil Rights Center announced today that they would again join together to provide basic legal information and representation — at no cost — to any Iraqi national who requested such assistance in the Chicago area. Coalition members noted the timeliness and urgency of the recruitment effort, given the imminent military action in Iraq.

“At this time of heightened tensions, individuals targeted for questioning by law enforcement officials may want a lawyer to help them understand the process of an interview,” said Khaled J. Elkhatib of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Having access to an attorney should make the process easier for those Iraqi Americans wishing to cooperate with federal officials. This will help innocent Iraqis return to their normal lives as quickly as possible.”

The coalition will provide lawyers with a broad range of experience across the Chicago area who will offer free legal services to persons contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other law enforcement agencies acting on behalf of the federal government, in connection with the nationwide investigation. The groups noted that the pending military action and the government’s threat to detain persons in violation of immigration law might lead many individuals targeted for questioning to seek legal counsel before and during their interview with law enforcement officials.

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