Justice Department's Immigration Moves Misleading, Inconsistent

November 29, 2001 12:00 am

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Statement of Lucas Guttentag, Director
ACLU Immigrants Rights Project


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s latest moves are more suggestive of a sting operation than an effort to collect important information in the ongoing terrorism investigation.

Attorney General Ashcroft now makes vague promises that are completely inconsistent with the threat of arrest and detention for any minor visa violation set forth in the existing INS memo governing this investigation.

The Attorney General’s statement is misleading immigrants into thinking they will not be arrested when in fact the existing INS memo states that visa violators will be arrested and jailed.

The Attorney General holds all the cards: It is completely in his discretion to detain and deport or to grant a reprieve. Who would come forward under these conditions, especially since the Justice Department has already detained hundreds of people based on minor visa violations?

If the Justice Department is serious about encouraging immigrants to come forward it should provide specific written assurances that are enforceable. Instead it has done the opposite.

To provide such incentive for people to come forward, the Attorney General should withdraw the part of the memorandum calling on law enforcement officers conducting terrorism-related interviews to report minor visa violations to the INS, and make a specific, written, enforceable promise not deport those who offer information.

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