Arabs and Muslims Are Focus of America’s Search for Disappearing Deportees

Published January 8th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

In the framework of a new official initiative, authorities in the United States will soon begin looking for thousands of Middle Eastern men, who have disappeared after being ordered to leave the country. 


The Washington Post reports that the United States Justice Department has identified as many as 6,000 people from the Middle East who have ignored deportation orders sent to them, and has decided to make their arrest and removal top priority. The men come from nations that Washington considers havens for members of Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, and some of them have criminal backgrounds.  


This move comes as part of a wider plan proposed to find hundreds of thousands of foreigners who have disobeyed such rulings, and remained in the USA illegally after they were ordered to leave.  


Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner, James W. Ziglar announced the effort last month and authorities are preparing to enter the names into a FBI crime database. It has been reported that officials at the Justice Department have decided to enter the Middle Eastern names first. Those people will first be sought for capture and removal through special anti-terrorism task forces. 


In announcing the “absconder initiative”, Ziglar stated that it was aimed at solving a long-running immigration problem. He highlighted the fact that it was not part of the government's anti-terrorism effort. Ziglar did not comment Monday on the list of people from Middle East countries. Furthermore, Justice Department officials also declined to comment, on grounds of secrecy.  


The plan to give top priority to a group of Arabs and Muslims over other foreign nationals has raised deep concerns amongst various Arab American and immigrant advocate groups. They claim that the Bush administration is practicing “racial profiling” in its war on terrorism.  


It should be noted that the vast majority of people ignoring deportation orders throughout the United States are Hispanics from Latin America. 


The Washington Post adds that Justice officials, including Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, have denied that ethnicity plays a role in their anti-terrorism strategies. Several officials stressed that the program is aimed at foreign nationals who should not be in the United States. 


Furthermore, these officials stated, an initial focus on individuals from terrorist havens is a public safety precaution that could provide investigators with important leads. "We are going to continue to use our anti-terrorism task forces to pursue people . . . who may have information helpful in our investigation, and that means focusing on people from countries with active al Qaeda cells," a Justice official assured. 


Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, said men of Arab or Muslim origin ought not to be singled out in such a manner.  


"Obviously, these are highly sensitive times and nothing prevents INS from following leads to apprehend suspects, even if those leads include descriptions based on race or national origin," Henderson stated. "But a dragnet approach to law enforcement -- rounding up men based on national origin rather than suspicious behavior or credible evidence -- is highly questionable." 


James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, claimed "There's no question because of September 11 there's a lower tolerance level for visa overstays, and there's a hyper-sensitivity to Arab overstays".  


However, he questioned whether the Justice Department’s move with regard to the Middle Easterners would be effective in assisting in the hunt for potential terrorists. He then added clearly that “the answer is no”. 


No arrests have been made from the list thus far, according to authorities. ( 

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