ACLU of Northern CA Provides Free Legal Advice for Iraqi Immigrants Facing FBI Questioning

March 24, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SAN FRANCISCO--Concerned that federal law enforcement may be engaging in ethnic profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and other civil rights groups today announced that they will provide free legal advice to Iraqi immigrants, Iraqi Americans and others who may be contacted by the FBI for questioning.

"The FBI questioning of Iraqis and Iraqi Americans is just the latest plan targeting people from South Asian, Muslim and Arab communities," said Jayashri Srikantiah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "The plan is really nothing more than racial and ethnic profiling. Our goal is to make sure that people who are targeted know their rights and know that they have the right to have an attorney present."

The groups' actions follow the federal government's recent announcement that it will begin interviewing thousands of people of Iraqi origin now that the United States has gone to war with Iraq. The groups are providing a free 24-hour hotline number and a "Know Your Rights" bulletin available in Arabic and English.

Other groups involved in the effort include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab-American Cultural Center, the National Lawyers Guild, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.

"Given that massive interview efforts in the past year have led to the detention of hundreds of individuals totally unrelated to terrorism, under harsh conditions and in secret, we caution against using interviews as a pretext to detain and deport those fortunate souls who managed to escape from the violent and brutal rule of Saddam Hussein," said Helal Omeira, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

According to Riva Enteen of the National Lawyers Guild, the FBI is already contacting Iraqi Americans and Iraqi immigrants in the Bay Area, which has the ninth largest community of Iraqi immigrants in the country. "It is imperative that people know having an attorney present is a constitutional protection. Asserting your constitutional rights is not an admission of guilt."

Linda Sherif of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee added, "The Arab American community has seen an increase in discrimination since the outset of the war - incidents in schools, hate graffiti, neighbors yelling at them. We need to send the message to the Bush Administration that the Arab community is part of the national fabric of this nation and should be respected."

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