ACLU of Southern California Sets Up Hotline For Iraqi-Americans Seeking Legal Assistance With FBI Interviews

March 26, 2003 12:00 am

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

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 24-hour hotline number to serve the southern California area, which is home to one of the largest Muslim and Arab American communities in the country.

“In setting up this hotline, the ACLU is continuing in its long tradition of helping those who need assistance during times of great national crisis,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “We want to make sure that people in the targeted communities are aware of the fact that they are entitled to have an attorney present during questioning. Together with volunteer attorneys we will work to make sure that those seeking legal assistance will not be left out in the cold.”

In the past, interviews conducted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have stirred unrest and fear among the Middle-Eastern communities. Complaints of harassment and improper or intrusive questions were commonplace.

Preliminary reports of the interviews currently taking place range from pleasant or courteous to rude and intimidating. Arab American and Muslim American organizations have repeatedly called on law enforcement officials to respect interview subjects’ rights and refrain from treating the communities as suspects rather than partners in the war on terrorism.

Other groups involved in the effort include the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Progressive Jewish Alliance and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Guaranteeing and respecting the rights of those questioned, in keeping with constitutional standards, will help to enhance cooperation between American Muslims and law enforcement,” said Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“We have to work to ensure that all Americans remain safe and secure, both in terms of physical safety, and also in terms of safeguarding our civil rights and civil liberties,” said Daniel Sokatch, Executive Director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. “This is not a Muslim issue, a Jewish issue or an Arab issue, this is an American issue.”

“We understand the governments’ concern for public safety in this time of war, and also the American Muslim community’s concerns about their civil rights,” said Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California. “This hotline provides the necessary protections to allow people to feel secure in the conversations with law enforcement agencies.”

The hotline number is: (213) 977-5289.

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