US Citizens Part of Voluntary Interview Program
Earlier this month, law enforcement agencies began sending letters to hundreds of young Arabs and Muslims inviting them to participate in voluntary interviews regarding the events of September 11. The letters are part of a new policy adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking to interview 5,000 “Middle Eastern” men between the ages of 18 and 33 who have entered the United States on non-immigrant visas after January 2000.
Despite reassurances to the contrary from Attorney General John Ashcroft and others within the Administration, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has received numerous reports that law enforcement officials have initiated contact with legal permanent residents (green card holders) and United States citizens of Arab origin requesting them to participate in such voluntary interviews.
Clearly, some members of the Arab-American community are now subject to official ethnic profiling. ADC is shocked to see United States citizens and permanent residents profiled because of their ethnicity and national origin. This is an indication that the announced DOJ policy may have an alternative purpose which is to ethnically profile all individuals of Arab origin which smacks of guilt by association and the incrimination of an entire ethnic population.
Furthermore, on November 23, 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issued a memo addressed to all INS regional offices in which it states that “Affirmative requests either by the FBI or the US Attorney’s Office to detain immigration violators under ‘NO BOND’ should be honored and will be handled in the same manner as all prior cases with a direct nexus to the September 11th investigation.” This memo provides for the possibility that individuals who agree to volunteer may be subject to an immigration violation detention based on a decision made by the law enforcement official conducting the voluntary interview.
ADC has contacted the Justice Department and requested additional clarification about the voluntary interviews including whether follow-up letters will be mailed if individuals do not respond; what consequences will individuals face if they refuse to answer specific questions during the interview; and what methods of contacting individuals are being utilized nationwide.
ADC strongly recommends that anyone who is invited by the authorities to participate in such an interview must:
1) Understand that the Department of Justice has emphasized that all such interviews are completely voluntary and that no one is obligated to volunteer or answer any question.
2) Make sure that an attorney is present at all times during any voluntary interview the person may choose to attend.
3) Know that the person volunteering has absolute discretion in selecting the date, time, and location of the interview as well as who may attend the interview, including an interpreter.