ACLU Condemns FBI Decision to Question Iraqis Not Under Suspicion

March 20, 2003

DETROIT – The FBI has told the ACLU that they will refuse to follow their previous practice in Michigan of providing assurances of the men's rights, specifically the right to an attorney, in advance of questioning Arab men. Wednesday night, the FBI announced that they will immediately begin questioning all Iraqis who have entered the United States since the Gulf War.

"We are very concerned that the FBI would proceed with this mission to question such a large group of people without any individualized suspicion that any of these people have knowledge of terrorism or terrorist acts,"said ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss.

On March 19 the ACLU of Michigan had asked the Michigan FBI to follow a practice agreed to by the Philadelphia FBI this week that would involve providing a letter from a local religious leader to every Iraqi to be interviewed. The letter assured those to be interviewed that they would not be considered the subject of an investigation or a terrorist; that they would not be arrested based on an immigration violation; and that the interviews would be voluntary.

In response, the FBI has indicated that they will not agree to duplicate this effort in any way. This decision makes little practical sense given official acknowledgment by the government that most Iraqis in the U.S. are hostile to Saddam Hussein and are unlikely candidates for terrorism. 

"Metropolitan Detroit has the largest Iraqi population in the United States. This new policy of FBI questioning, as the war begins, is certain to increase the perception that Iraqi-Americans are our enemies; or more likely to be criminals simply based on their national origin. These government actions only increase risks of hate crimes against Iraqis in the U.S.," Moss stated.

The ACLU opposes the use of profiles based on race, religion or ethnicity. According to the ACLU, targeting people for investigation, interrogation or detention based on immutable characteristics like national origin, ethnicity or religion alone is unconstitutional and inappropriate in all circumstances. Targeting people because of distinguishing characteristics due to their behavior, is not. While the FBI announcement asks that the questioning be viewed as benign, this questioning must be viewed in the context of all of the other Arab and Muslim questioning that the government has engaged in since 9/11. This is part of a targeted program of government harassment of the Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

A hotline to provide legal information and representation to anyone contacted by the FBI has been reestablished by the ACLU of Michigan, in collaboration with the Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS), American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). The number is (313) 578-6806.

The flyer that has been distributed to the community follows:

IF THE FBI OR POLICE CONTACT YOU FOR QUESTIONING

  • The FBI has announced plans to interview more than one out of every five people of Iraqi origin living in the United States. This bulletin informs you how to respond when the FBI, INS, or police contact you for questioning.
  • If an FBI, INS or police officer asks to speak with you, write down their name, title and phone number. Then CONTACT US IMMEDIATELY. We have a free hotline that provides confidential legal assistance. THE NUMBER IS: (313) 578-6806
  • If an FBI agent or police officer asks to speak with you tell him or her that you want to consult with an attorney first. Your attorney can contact them to set up the interview if you decide that you would like to talk to them. An attorney is a legal witness who will protect your rights.
  • Any information that you give to an officer, even if it seems harmless, can be used against you or someone else. Lying to an officer is a crime. Remaining silent is not a crime. Do not talk without an attorney.
  • You do not have to let an officer into your home or office without a warrant. Ask to see the warrant. If the officer will not show you the warrant, do not physically stop him or her from entering. If the officer insists, be sure to say that the officer does not have your permission to enter.
  • If the officer claims to have a warrant for your arrest, ask to see the warrant. You must go with the officer. Do not answer questions until you consult with an attorney.
  • Keep a copy of all immigration documentation in a safe place where a trusted friend or family member can access it and send it to you if needed.

PLEASE CALL US FOR ASSISTANCE-
LET OTHERS KNOW ABOUT THIS HOTLINE NUMBER

Co-Sponsored by:
American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, Michigan Chapter
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan
Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services
National Lawyers Guild, Michigan Chapter