One day after the invasion of Iraq began, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would be interviewing approximately 11,000 Iraqis and Iraqi Americans living in the United States, to protect their safety and elicit information that might be helpful in the U.S. war in Iraq.
The next day, the newly formed Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) announced that the Justice Department had authorized FBI agents to act as immigration officials, and that the FBI and BICE would start a program aimed at arresting Iraqis for immigration violations.
In Seattle, the Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington began receiving calls from people of Iraqi descent concerned about unannounced visits of FBI agents to their homes. These visits often occured during the day when only women or children were home, and agents offered neither interpreters nor access to lawyers.
Wendy Patton, U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, fears that information from these interviews will expose criminal or immigration violations that will then be used by the Department of Justice for arrest or deportation.
Jean Abinader of the Arab-American Institute said his group was aware of at least 100 complaints about the intimidating manner in which interviews were conducted or that the FBI had told some individuals that they could not bring attorneys.
“These roundups...have not been effective in tracking down terrorists,” said Abinader. “It's because [the FBI] is using a dragnet approach instead of good law enforcement techniques. They're looking at the haystack instead of for the needle.”
At a meeting in Seattle with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, Iraqi-American leaders expressed anger. “We came here to escape Saddam,” said Yahya Al-Garib, the director of the Iraqi Community Center. “More than you, our families have been tortured by him. More than you, we have been put in jail by him. This is our home now. We want to do everything to help. But you destroy relationships by suspecting us, questioning us, making us afraid.”
Meanwhile, it appears that the Bush Administration is pushing ahead with the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, popularly dubbed Patriot Act II. This legislation would extend to U.S. citizens the crackdown already experienced by immigrants. According to information leaked to the Center for Public Integrity, this legislation provides for secret hearings, bypassing of judicial oversight, unchecked deportation authority for the attorney general, increasingly invasive surveillance powers over American citizens, and stripping of citizenship for Americans based on political associations deemed “terrorist.”