of Arabs and Muslims Could Be Deported, Officials Say
From The New York Times
June 7, 2003
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
More than 13,000 of the Arab and Muslim men who came forward earlier
this year to register with immigration authorities -- roughly 16
percent of the total -- may now face deportation, government officials
Only a handful have been linked to terrorism. But of the 82,000
men older than 16 who registered, more than 13,000 have been found
to be living in this country illegally, officials say.
Many had hoped to win leniency by demonstrating their willingness
to cooperate with the campaign against terror. The men were not
promised special treatment, however, and officials believe that
most will be expelled in what is likely to be the largest wave of
deportations after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The government has initiated deportation proceedings, and in immigrant
communities across the country, an exodus has already begun.
Quietly, the fabric of neighborhoods is thinning. Families are
packing up; some are splitting up. Rather than come forward and
risk deportation, an unknowable number of immigrants have burrowed
deeper underground. Others have simply left -- for Canada or for
The deportations are a striking example of how the Bush administration
increasingly uses the nation's immigration system as a weapon in
the battle against terror.
For decades, illegal immigrants have often flourished because officials
lacked the staff, resources and political will to deport them. But
since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the
government has been detaining and deporting illegal immigrants from
countries considered breeding grounds for terrorists.
"There's been a major shift in our priorities," said
Jim Chaparro, acting director for interior enforcement at the Department
of Homeland Security, which has subsumed the old immigration service.
"We need to focus our enforcement efforts on the biggest threats,"
Mr. Chaparro added. "If a loophole can be exploited by an immigrant,
it can also be exploited by a terrorist."
Advocates for immigrants warn that such a strategy -- indeed, the
administration's sweeping reorientation of law enforcement toward
terrorism prevention -- can be abused by government officials.
They note that, though it did not deal directly with the registration
program, an internal Justice Department report was released this
week that was deeply critical of the government's roundup of illegal
immigrants after Sept. 11, 2001. Senior officials were found to
have repeatedly ignored calls from immigration officials to quickly
distinguish between the innocent and guilty. As a result, many people
who had no ties to terrorism were jailed unnecessarily, the report
Advocates for immigrants have also accused officials of practicing
selective enforcement by focusing on illegal immigrants from Arab
and Muslim nations. Rather than disrupting communities, they say,
the government should improve its intelligence and prosecution of
"What the government is doing is very aggressively targeting
particular nationalities for enforcement of immigration law,"
said Lucas Guttentag, director of the immigrants' rights project
at the American Civil Liberties Union. "The identical violation
committed by, say, a Mexican immigrant is not enforced in the same
Some of those facing deportation have waited months or years for
officials to process applications to legalize their status. Immigration
lawyers say they believe that a substantial number of these men
avoid deportation. Their clients are only illegal, the lawyers say,
because of the government's inefficiency.
Even before the registration program began early this year, the
government had deported hundreds of illegal immigrants in its effort
to prevent, and not simply respond to, terrorist attacks. But the
scope of those deportations remains unclear.
Officials say more than 600 Arab and Muslim illegal immigrants
were deported during the first wave of expulsions after Sept. 11.
But the Justice Department stopped releasing figures after the number
of arrested immigrants surged to 1,200, and officials have declined
to give complete statistics for that period.
Another wave of deportations began last year after officials said
they planned to find and arrest illegal immigrants who pose security
threats and already have deportation orders. Of that group, more
than 3,000 people have been arrested. Officials say they cannot
say how many of those Arab and Muslim men have been deported.
But it is the special registration program -- which required noncitizens
from 25 Arab and Muslim countries to register from December through
April -- that seems likely to produce the largest number of expulsions.
In the last two months, officials have released a succession of
tallies of immigrants facing deportation; the 13,000 figure represents
the most up-to-date estimate.
Officials acknowledged that most Arab and Muslim immigrants swept
up in counterterrorism sweeps have no ties to terrorist groups.
Of the 82,000 men who showed up at immigration offices, and tens
of thousands more screened at airports and border crossings in the
past six months, 11 have had links to terrorism.
Still, officials said, they can no longer ignore illegal immigrants
from countries that pose a security risk. They noted that several
Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country illegally at the time of
In all, deportations of illegal immigrants from Asian and African
countries have surged by nearly 27 percent in the last two years.
The number of Pakistani, Jordanians, Lebanese and Moroccans deported
during that time has doubled, the statistics show; the number of
Egyptians deported has nearly tripled.
In the immigrant communities, the impact multiplies.
The Pakistani Embassy in Washington said that since Sept. 11, more
than 15,000 Pakistanis in this country illegally are believed to
have left for Canada, Europe and Pakistan.
Three weeks ago, in Stanton, Calif., Yasser Tair, a Syrian real
estate agent, was deported to the country he left 14 years ago.
Mr. Tair's wife, Zhour, and his two American-born children are also
Their dining room table is already gone. So are the rugs, the children's
beds, the computer. "I am selling everything," Zhour Tair
said. "I cannot make it here anymore."
In Brooklyn, hundreds of illegal immigrants have sought help from
the Arab-American Family Support Center. About 500 of the center's
clients who registered are now fighting deportation in court.
Johanna Habib, the center's only staff lawyer, writes their names
and court dates on an increasingly crowded wall calendar. Some of
the men have American-born children or wives who are citizens or
green-card holders. Many have applications to legalize their immigration
status that have been pending for years.
"We have a handful that are going to be O.K." Ms. Habib
said. "But it's a very small handful."
Abdel Hakim Benbader, a cabdriver from Algeria at the center, said
he registered even though he was living here illegally, because
he wanted to help. He said he thought his future was in the United
States. His wife has a green card and his son is an American citizen.
"We were thinking of buying a house," said Mr. Benbader,
who is fighting deportation. "We were thinking of having good
jobs like everybody. If I'm leaving, it's going to be a big problem."
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