Statement of Ishmael Ahmed, Executive Director, Arab Community Center For Economic and Social Services

July 30, 2003 12:00 am

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Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor et al. v. John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller: The First Challenge to The USA PATRIOT Act

DETROIT – The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) is a Detroit-based human-services organization committed to the development of the Arab-American community in all aspects of its economic and cultural life. ACCESS is part of the ACLU lawsuit on its own behalf and on behalf of its members, clients, and constituents.

ACCESS is a crucial part of the Arab community in the Detroit area. Our staff and volunteers serve low-income families, help newly arrived immigrants adapt to life in the United States, and educate Americans about Arab culture. ACCESS provides a wide range of social, educational, artistic, employment, legal and medical services. With approximately 150 full-time staff, we provide over 70 different programs to more than 100,000 people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds.

For example, ACCESS runs a Community Health and Resources Center that offers a wide range of medical, public health, mental health and family counseling services and programs. Its division of Psychosocial Rehabilitation for Survivors of Torture and Refugee Family Strengthening provides mental health services to torture victims and refugees. The Community Center also provides specialized services to victims of domestic violence, administers a breast and cervical cancer control program, and provides HIV/AIDS and STD education counseling and testing.

The clients who come to ACCESS expect and deserve to know that our ability to maintain the confidentiality of our records and the sensitive information that they give us will not be compromised. Prior to the PATRIOT Act, we were always confident that we could assure our clients that their personal information would be kept confidential. We knew that if we couldn’t offer this assurance, many people would simply choose not to seek our help.

When the FBI last year targeted Arabs and Arab-Americans for special interviews, we were able to assemble volunteer attorneys willing to accompany our members, clients, and constituents to FBI interviews. And our efforts were not unwarranted. Many of our members and clients have been individually targeted by the FBI.

Let me tell you about Ahmad Ali Ghosn, one of our clients. He was born in Lebanon in 1965. He came to the United States in 1988 and has been a legal permanent resident since 1993. Mr. Ghosn’s application for naturalization has been pending for over seven years. He first submitted his application in June 1996 and was later informed that the INS had lost the application. He was advised to submit two duplicate applications, which were acknowledged in January 1998 – over five years ago. Since then, the INS has required Mr. Ghosn to be fingerprinted on multiple occasions, most recently in February 2002, but has never scheduled a naturalization interview.

At his last appointment, which was supposed to be an interview, Mr. Ghosn was met by an INS investigator and two FBI agents who told him that he could be naturalized if he became an informant for them, but that if he did not, his children would be seized by the government and placed in foster care. He was not advised of his right to counsel. Mr. Ghosn answered all of their questions for two hours but he refused to become an informant.

This is just one example of how the FBI has intruded into the life of a law-abiding man who wants nothing more than to become a citizen of the country he has lived in for nearly 15 years. Men like Ahmad Ali Ghosn are assets to our country and should not be made to feel like they are criminals.

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