ACLU Warns of Resurrecting 'Voluntary' Interview Program; Arab and Muslim Communities Should Not be Targets of Racial Profiling

June 22, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that previous attempts by federal law enforcement officials to conduct ‘voluntary’ interviews of Arab and Muslim immigrants proved ineffective, the American Civil Liberties Union today called upon the FBI to give careful consideration before engaging in similar efforts.

“We saw the war on terror quickly become a war on immigrants,” said Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “The non-partisan General Accounting Office has already raised concerns about how the first rounds of interviews were conducted — concerns that the Justice Department has yet to address. A fair and open process is the only way to ensure that our law enforcement acts in accordance with our concern for civil liberties.”

On May 26, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that the FBI would launch a new round of nationwide interviews in Muslim communities. While neither official provided specifics, ABC News reported on May 28 that internal Justice Department sources confirmed that 5,000 Muslims and Arabs will be targeted for questioning based on religion and ethnicity, and not on individualized criminal suspicion.

The recent proposal appears to be a resurrection of the failed 2001 and 2002 programs in which the FBI questioned first 5,000 and then 3,000 Muslims and Arabs. All public accounts indicate that the questioning did not yield apprehension of a single terrorist. Those rounds of questioning were the subject of a General Accounting Office report, issued in April of 2003.

In its report, the GAO found that 58 percent of those on the initial list of interviews had yet to be interviewed – including duplicate names, those that had left the country, and those that could not be located. While the interviews were conducted on a voluntary basis, the GAO concluded that, “although aliens were not coerced to participate in the interviews, they worried about the repercussions, such as future INS denials for visa extensions or permanent residency, if they refused to be interviewed.”

In a letter sent to today to FBI Director Robert Mueller, the ACLU warned that casting blanket suspicion on an entire religious community is not a productive means for protecting national security or civil liberties. The initial set of interviews, the ACLU said, has already created a wedge between Arab and Muslim communities and law enforcement. Moreover, the ACLU said that law enforcement must not engage in racial, religious and ethnic profiling – fishing expeditions that would do little to provide security, but would only add to an already overburdened system.

“Already, the Department of Homeland Security has stepped away from using racial profiling as a tool,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Justice Department should also abandon this ineffective and discriminatory technique.”

The ACLU’s letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller is available at:

The GAO’s report on the Justice Department’s project to interview aliens is at:

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