Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

saw Xeni's post on Boing Boing

Top Stories - Reuters
Hundreds of Muslim Immigrants Rounded Up in Calif.
Wed Dec 18, 8:47 PM ET
By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iranian and other Middle East citizens were in southern California jails on Wednesday after coming forward to comply with a new rule to register with immigration authorities only to wind up handcuffed and behind bars.

Shocked and frustrated Islamic and immigrant groups estimate that more than 500 people have been arrested in Los Angeles, neighboring Orange County and San Diego in the past three days under a new nationwide anti-terrorism program. Some unconfirmed reports put the figure as high as 1,000.

The arrests sparked a demonstration by hundreds of Iranians outside a Los Angeles immigration office. The protesters carried banners saying "What's next? Concentration camps?" and "What happened to liberty and justice?."

According to Xeni, "Representatives of some local Iranian-American groups were quoted yesterday as saying they understand that the detainees may be shipped off to Arizona." There is an LA Times article as well.

I remember after the arrests following 9/11, the Japanese-American community made a public comment condemning the unfair imprisonment of Arab-Americans. This is really the 1940's all over again. And I was just starting to think about moving back to the US again. When are the American people going to wake up, read history and realize that they're headed down a pretty well trodden and terrible path? I complain a lot about the Japanese people being apathetic and unaware, but I wonder if this might be better than thinking you're aware and wishing for war and treating immigrants as if they were "enemy combatants" with no rights. Amazing.


"This is really the 1940's all over again."

I really disagree here and I think yours is a knee-jerk reaction. FDR's executive order 9066 robbed the Japanese Americans of their livelihood and freedom and is one of the greatest blights on American history. Perhaps on par with slavery in terms of how sinister it was. But the context is different in this case. Your article excerpt doesn't explain what the immigrants and citizens were arrested for, exactly. Also, Middle-Eastern Americans simply aren't the same as Japanese Americans. No Japanese Americans were ever confirmed to be conspirators with the enemy.

"When are the American people going to wake up, read history and realize that they're headed down a pretty well trodden and terrible path?"

Is this really just a simple case of history repeating itself?

Mike. It's just the beginning. No, it's not the same, but it can get worse. With new surveillence technology, the TIA and other methods, once this machine gets up and running it could be much worse. It could also reach outside of the US and touch us here in Japan. I could imaging the US government coming to ask Japan for THEIR list of the top 1,000,000 anti-American people AND I can imagine Japan giving them this list.

Re "Middle-Eastern American's simply aren't the same as Japanese American"... some are.

So no. It's not history simply repeating itself exactly, but we should learn from history and be VERY careful when the government starts throwing people in jail and labeling people as "enemy combatants" or whatever, stripping them of their rights.

They may come after you next for reading my blog. ;-p

As an Iranian-American, I must say that I feel chilled by this news.

I have never been to Iran, but the fact that my father was born there may one day make me a instant criminal in America.

This is not going to make the US look any better to the rest of the world either... Not that the government really cares about its image overseas...

I've written on many occasions in my blog about how uncomfortable I am with civil liberties aspects of the "War on Terror." Having said that, this strikes me as a story that we just don't know enough about yet.

According to the original report:

The arrests were part of a post Sept. 11 program that requires all males over 16 from a list of 20 Arab or Middle East countries, who do not have permanent resident status in the United States, to register with U.S. immigration authorities.

Monday was the deadline for men from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan. News of the mass arrests came first in southern California, which is home to more than 600,000 Iranian exiles and their families.

600,000 exiles from Iran alone? And how many from Iraq, Syria, and Libya? An off-the-top-of-the-head guess would be that there are at least 200,000 men who meet the criteria in the Southern California area. So if they all went in to register, and 1,000 were arrested due to what may have been serious immigration violations, that's an arrest rate of just half a percent.

Look, I'm as frightened as most people by John Ashcroft and what he's doing. But I just think we're rushing to judgement here before we have all the facts. Let's find out how many men registered and how many were actually arrested. Let's find out on what charges they were arrested. Let's find out what the government's plans for them are. Then we can have an informed discussion about this.

LA Times
Many of those arrested, according to their lawyers, had already applied for green cards and, in some instances, had interviews scheduled in the near future. Although they had overstayed their visas, attorneys argue, their clients had already taken steps to remedy the situation and were following the regulations closely.

"These are the people who've voluntarily gone" to the INS, said Mike S. Manesh of the Iranian American Lawyers Assn. "If they had anything to do with terrorism, they wouldn't have gone."

Immigration officials acknowledged Wednesday that many of those taken into custody this week have status-adjustment applications pending that have not yet been acted on.

"The vast majority of people who are coming forward to register are currently in legal immigration status," said local INS spokeswoman Virginia Kice. "The people we have taken into custody ... are people whose non-immigrant visas have expired."

So it doesn't sound like SERIOUS crimes. What does this have to do with terrorism? Terrorizing Arabs who live in America maybe...

I agree that we may be over-reacting, but a bit of over-reaction goes a long way in letting the government know that people DO care.

Good point (re the fact that it is only .005 of the total..) But still, the people who were in this line were clearly those who were committed to working within the system. They NEED to treat them with much more courtesy. In fact, they need to treat every human being with respect, something law enforcement officials in the US often forget.

This behavior is all part of the Bush administration's new 'cowboy' approach to international relations, (not only with 'rogue states') which often seems to be based on Nixon's 'madman theory' of warfare.. i.e. calculatedly 'unpredictable' behavior promoting a deliberate appearance of irrationality and brutality...

It may 'work' in deterring terrorism on one level or another, but it alienates so many more than it intimidates and in my opinion. (justifiably) aggravates the already quite bad long-term problems with anti-americanism for the US on a massive scale..

Today I am NOT proud for or of my country..

I must say that this looks worse the more I look into it.

Estimates are that up to 25% of people registering were arrested in So. Cal.

Despite what Frank said, it looks like there was a zero tolerance policy, people who came in willingly, TO BE FINGERPRINTED, who were in process of fixing outstanding visa status issues, (many caused by an INS who can't meet their own deadlines), no matter how minor were summarily detained.

Just one quote:

"His mother is 6 1/2 months pregnant. They told the mother he is never going to come home -- she is losing her mind," said attorney Soheila Jonoubi, who spent Wednesday amid the chaos of the downtown INS office attempting to determine the status of her clients.

Jonoubi said that the mother has permanent residence status and that her husband, the boy's stepfather, is a U.S. citizen. The teenager came to the country in July on a student visa and was on track to gain permanent residence, the lawyer said.”

Is this as bad as the camps? In many ways it could be more insidious and dangerous. When internment was declared it was visible and open to public debate, the constitutionality was quickly tested and ended up in 1944 prompting what is now widely believed to be one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of the time.

What is going on now? The INS refuses to release names or even a count of the detainees. Lawyers can not see them, family can not communicate. The Justice department now believes that Habeas Corpus is some out dated nicety that does not apply to people who might be a threat to the nation. But the drafters of the constitution and the British before them knew that most people arrested were a threat, but yet they were still granted rights.

In 1931 the Germans began to slowly accept restrictions on Jews, “deportation and relocation” were just the last step. First laws were enforced unequally for Jews, and then a few Jews started to disappear, then more, then even more. In Germany there was never a moment you could say the line was crossed, it was eroded day by day. Each day the Germans accepted harsher treatment of the Jews slowly they accepted more, but the “final solution” was not implemented until 1942, 10 years after restrictions on Jews started.

So is this as bad as the Holocaust, or the Japanese internment, no it has not come to that… yet. But if we look the other way when rights are eroded I can promise you that it will come to something bad, in fact it already has. It has come to us debating weather even our most basic rights apply to all of us, all the time. Can the government just make people disappear? And if they can where does the line get drawn?

PS: Why are there 600,000 Iranians in California? Most of them we invited here after we failed in our attempts to prop-up the wicked Shaw of Iran. We brought them here to save them from retribution for supporting us. Now we are arresting their relatives.

I am in agreement w/Joi. Things are much worse than they seem. Take a look at military sites such as DARPA
and some of the programs there. I don't mean to sound extremist, but current anti-terrorist legislation extends to impact U.S.citizens and their prior rights to privacy.

If people were given a grace period for getting their visas sorted out, like they did in Japan recently, the arrests can be justified, but this doesn't seem to be the case here.

A terrorist, criminal or illegal immigrant would not show up for registration anyway. This looks like a sneeky trick just to detain these people just because of their faith or ethnicity.

I was seriously thinking of moving to the states earlier this year, but looking at things like this and being a Muslim, I doubt I ever will.

Sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree with the tone of this thread...

I certainly don't agree with what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII. They were taken from their homes and put in concentration camps, only based on the idea that it was possible they might work against the U.S. There was no evidence against them, and they had broken no laws.

That said, what we are seeing here may seem harsh, but to me it only seems to be a strict application of law. Why should we avoid applying a law where it exists? Shouldn't we be respecting the rule of law, and possibly working towards a change in the law if we disagree?

The people who were arrested were all in violation of immigration law. I don't condone treating people badly, or not allowing them to communicate with their families -- this needs to change. But I can't condemn INS for trying to detain those in violation of their visas! What can they do if they can't at least detain people who are here illegally?

This country has a serious problem controlling immigration, and every time anyone tries to enforce our immigration law, immigrants and others are up at arms. Do they think we should simply disregard the laws passed by congress? Should there be no restriction on immigration?

After 911, our representatives passed new law to require people from the above mentioned countries to register with INS. Was this unreasonable? I don't think so. Is it then unreasonable to detain those from these countries who are here in an illegal status? Sorry, but I don't think so. Remember, they're not in a concentration camp.

And also please remember that there is good reason to be very vigilant with immigrants from these countries.

Dan Gillmor blogs...

Dan Gillmor
Clumsy is the mildest word to describe the INS/Justice Department roundup. It seems designed to intimidate.

It's also gives off a whiff of an ugly past, when America put Japanese citizens into concentration camps during World War II. I thought we'd learned the lesson from that. Maybe not.

Look at it from the INS viewpoint. The agency is one of the most inept and, with reason, probably the least respected in the government. Its leaders must be thinking about nothing more than avoiding another Sept. 11 -- and they'll go to any extreme in that pursuit.

But the message we're sending shouts intolerance and abuse. Is it deliberate?

Well, this thread has gone on awfully long but I just found out some incredible details.

As you may already know of the over 400 people detained less than 28 are still in custody. The outcry worked and the INS got more rational. What you may not know is that a large portion of the immigrants detained were Persian Jews. The Iranian Jewish community was one of the largest in the Arab world (we have a holiday called Purim that celebrates the partnership of the Jews and the Persians, a long story). Anyway, one may not be surprised that Persian Jews continue to leave Iran and go to Israel and the U.S. Many of those detained are caught in the nightmare that is the INS, they have families sponsoring their immigration and they are not illegally in the U.S., but many are in the midst of status change and the INS is literally a year behind on these applications. So they come in to register and get fingerprinted and they get arrested on what everyone agrees is a bureaucratic mess, not a purposeful crime.

Are they out of status? Yes. Are they a risk to the country? Are they hiding? Are we going to send them back to Iran? No to all the above. They are just caught in the Kafkaesque machine called the INS and they have no way out.

even demonstrations happening in SF downtown at INS. here

A postscript.. I just (1/31/03) read this article in the New York Times.

I think that this may be relevant..

"January 31, 2003
I.N.S. Shredder Ended Work Backlog, U.S. Says

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 30 — Tens of thousands of pieces of mail come into the huge Immigration and Naturalization Service data processing center in Laguna Niguel, Calif., every day, and as at so many government agencies, it tends to pile up. One manager there had a system to get rid of the vexing backlog, federal officials say. This week the manager was charged with illegally shredding as many as 90,000 documents.

Among the destroyed papers, federal officials charged, were American and foreign passports, applications for asylum, birth certificates and other documents supporting applications for citizenship, visas and work permits.

The manager, Dawn Randall, 24, was indicted late Wednesday by a federal grand jury, along with a supervisor working under her, Leonel Salazar, 34. They are accused of ordering low-level workers to destroy thousands of documents from last February to April to reduce a growing backlog of unprocessed paperwork.

Ms. Randall was the file room manager at the I.N.S. center. Mr. Salazar was her file room supervisor. The Laguna Niguel center handles paperwork for residents of California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam and is one of four immigration service centers around the country operated by private contractors under I.N.S. supervision.

According to the federal indictment, Ms. Randall ordered her subordinates last January to count the number of unprocessed papers in the filing center. They reported that about 90,000 documents were waiting to be handled. In February, the government says, she ordered at least five night-shift workers to begin shredding many boxes of papers.

By the end of March, the backlog had been cut to zero, and Ms. Randall ordered her subordinates to continue destroying incoming paper to keep current, the government says.

"There was no I.N.S. policy that required this, nor was she ordered to do it by any superior, as far as we know," said Greg Staples, the assistant United States attorney handling the case. "The only motive we can think of is just the obvious one of a manager trying to get rid of a nettlesome problem."

Mr. Staples said one frustrating thing about the case was that most of the evidence had been carted out with the trash and that it was impossible to identify all of the victims.

"It's like a murder case without a body," he said. "We will never really know what was destroyed."

The entire article is at the URL:

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