ACLU Applauds Local Police Departments for Refusing to Join in Justice Department "Dragnet"

November 30, 2001 12:00 am

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ACLU Applauds Local Police Departments for Refusing to Join in Justice Department “Dragnet”


NEW YORK–The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded local police departments that have refused to cooperate with a Justice Department dragnet investigation of 5,000 immigrants, saying that the police should not be asked to ignore basic legal procedures or to use ethnic and racial origin as the basis for suspicion.

A growing number of police departments have raised objections to Justice Department’s request, including jurisdictions in Detroit, MI; Portland, Hillsboro, and Corvallis, OR; Richardson and Austin, TX; and San Francisco and San Jose, CA. “”We believe that history will honor these departments and their leaders for their principles, professionalism, and independence, and we urge their fellow leaders around the nation to join them,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

“”These interviews are inherently coercive,”” Romero explained. “”Police are being asked to interrogate people on the basis of their ethnicity, their religious beliefs and the beliefs of their families and friends — all under the shadow of the very real threat that they will be thrown in jail without bail for any violations of immigration rules.””

The ACLU said that, with hundreds of people already in jail for minor immigration violations, the dragnet interviews can never be truly “”voluntary.”” Further, the ACLU noted, the Justice Department guidelines for interviews fail to instruct law enforcement to inform people of the right to decline to answer questions or the right to have a lawyer present.

“”Many of the people targeted for interviews come from countries where the police regularly abuse their powers,”” Romero said. “”These people are unlikely to know that they have a right to refuse to answer questions when the authorities come knocking on their doors.””

The ACLU also said that the Justice Department’s guidelines for interviewers go far beyond any legitimate quest for factual information. People will be asked, for example, whether they “”support”” any cause that terrorists espouse. That presumably includes Palestinian statehood, which the Bush Administration itself supports. A true response would likely trigger suspicion and further investigation. A false response would be a felony.

“”The ACLU recognizes the FBI’s right and responsibility to investigate the terrible crimes of September 11,”” said Romero. “”But the government has not even shown that it has any reasonable belief that the people it wants to interview have any information at all about the September attacks.””

Romero pointed to recent public criticisms of these tactics by eight former FBI officials, including former FBI executive assistant director Oliver Revell, who told The Washington Post recently that the Justice Department plan is not effective and “”really guts the values of our society, which you cannot allow the terrorists to do.”

Former FBI assistant director Kenneth P. Walton agreed. “It’s the Perry Mason School of Law Enforcement, where you get them in there and they confess,” Walton told the Post. “Well, it just doesn’t work that way. It is ridiculous. You say, ‘Tell me everything you know,’ and they give you the recipe to Mom’s chicken soup.””

Nationwide, the ACLU has produced and distributed a “”Know Your Rights”” pamphlet aimed at educating targeted communities of their rights during a police investigation. It is available in English, Arabic and Spanish and can be downloaded at

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