ACLU Calls Immigrant Fingerprinting Plan Discriminatory and Ineffective

August 13, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that the Department of Justice plan to fingerprint and track immigrants and visitors to the United States, made final yesterday, is discriminatory and will inevitably be ineffective.

“The Bush Administration is, step by step, isolating Muslim and Arab communities both in the eyes of the government and the American public,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This latest move needs to be seen in the larger context of all the actions targeted at people of Middle Eastern descent since September 11.”

“And, with the implementation of these regulations, the Bush Administration has indicated that it cares not one iota for the Arabs and Muslims living in this country, whose vigorous and reasonable objections to this tracking plan were completely ignored,” Edgar added.

Attorney General Ashcroft, with the support of the Administration, bucked intense opposition from the State Department and announced a dramatic expansion in the tracking and registering of immigrants to America.

The plan would require hundreds of thousands of lawful visitors – including those already in the country — from a list of predominantly Muslim nations to provide fingerprints to authorities upon arrival and register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service after 30 days in the country. Visitors who fail to do either of these things face fines or even deportation.

The ACLU has long opposed immigrant registration laws, saying that they treat immigrant populations as a separate and quasi-criminal element of society and that they create an easy avenue for surveillance of those who may hold unpopular beliefs.

Also of concern is the improbability that the scheme will do anything to increase safety. Terrorists will simply find ways to circumvent the registration process either by simply not reporting to the INS or by entering the U.S. from a country outside the coverage of the tracking proposal, the ACLU said.

“It’s pretty obvious that this plan won’t work at anything except allowing the government to essentially ‘pick on’ people who haven’t done anything wrong but happen to come from the Administration’s idea of the wrong side of the global tracks,” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

“Selective enforcement of any law based on unchangeable characteristics like race, ethnicity or national origin is at its core un-American,” he added.

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