A few years ago a writer who had written a semi-successful book for popular consumption about immigration law and human rights law contacted me to see if he could write a book about a family I represented in an asylum case that went to the Supreme Court. We discussed his idea for a book. I thought the story was thin – though it would have been fun (but untrue) to be the Atticus Finch in someone’s book. I suggested that he might be interested in writing about the federal government’s war on Muslims after 9-11. He said that a lot of people were writing books on the subject and so he was not interested. In the subsequent years I expected to see a flood of books on the subject; the end of the pipeline the author informed me of. I have seen none. The only book I can recall was Philip Roth’s, The Plot Against America, which took on the subject metaphorically – the people being hounded in that book were not Muslims, but rather American Jews hounded by President Charles Lindbergh. Ironically, I was reading this book while traveling and packed it in my luggage. When I opened the luggage after my plane flight the book was on top with a card from Homeland Security informing me that my luggage was opened and searched. Luckily someone at the TSA must have been an English major in college or I could have found myself in a South Carolina brig.
I still think a book, “The War Against Islam” would make a fascinating and important read. It could cover some of the highlights of the last nine years. It could discuss the Special Registration programs where people from predominantly Muslim countries who were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, had to report to ICE offices and register. The rules became so complicated over registering inside the country, at airports when coming in, ten days after coming in, and when departing, that it almost became an immigration law sub-specialty. Customs and Border Protection Officers couldn’t keep up with all the details of the law and aliens consequently were getting arrested because of CBP mistakes.
There were JTTF’s (Joint Terrorism Task Forces) started all over the country which went around towns and cities investigating Muslim Americans (mainly Arabs and then Iranians, it seemed to me). A public defender from Oklahoma called me in the mid-2000’s to discuss immigration issues. She told me that all the Arab-Americans in her Oklahoma city left because of pressure from the FBI. If you are stopped and interviewed over and over, at some point I guess you decide to “get out of Dodge.”
In the news were stories of Muslims being prosecuted and/or deported under dubious theories. A book could re-create the chill in the air with G-men and ICE agents knocking on doors and asking questions. When the FBI could not make an arrest, ICE would. In the news from San Diego was the story of a Somali cleric who was convicted of perjury and then deported for minor inconsistencies and omissions in his naturalization application. When the cleric asked for kosher food at the detention center where he was being held because the Halal menu was inedible (he obviously never flew TWA to Israel), he was placed in solitary confinement.
There were few heroes in the climate of the time. I represented an Arab man who was denied permanent residence and compelled to leave the United States because he was somewhat outspoken in the local San Diego coffee shops in his criticism of U.S. foreign policy. His free-speech arguments fell on deaf ears. I also represented an Egyptian man who was denied permanent residence and ordered deported because he stopped at a back gate at Camp Pendleton to ask for driving instructions. No amount of evidence that his actions were harmless – including the subpoenaed testimony of an FBI agent and a JTTF officer from the NCIS (and I thought before the case that NCIS was a fictitious organization in a TV show I never watched, like Hawaii Five-O (which I watched)) could prevent his prolonged detention and eventual “discretionary” denial of his permanent residence application. That case had its heroes. There was Joe Cantlupe of the then-Copley Press who covered the story when no one else had much interest. (CBS news wanted to know if the man, Abdul, had an accent that would make him less telegenic). The big heroes in that case were the Vermont Service Center VAWA Unit who courageously adjudicated and re-adjudicated his petitions and waivers despite pressure from ICE, whose attorneys were unabashed in making things up and telling them to the immigration judges. In fact, Abdul is poised to come back to the United States, having been interviewed for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate in Cairo, except that the State Department has had the case on “administrative review” for five months – presumably a security check issue. If they would just read his immigration trial transcript, they would read that both an FBI officer and a NCIS officer testified that he was completely clean.
For years after 2001, Arabs and Muslims faced long delays in adjusting status and naturalizing because of similar “name checks.” If you called the police because your cat was stuck in the tree, you could not clear these checks until someone read the police report. Finally, USCIS worked it out with the FBI and things are mostly better (though not for Abdul, for one).
Some wonder why the current anti-Muslim sentiment now evident because of the “Ground Zero Mosque” “controversy” has taken so long to emerge. After all, it has been nine years since 9-11. Perhaps it is because with the government’s backing away from some of its most extreme actions of the last nine years, the people are filling the void. Substituting for the government’s irrational discrimination is the people’s irrational discrimination. We’ll see if the libertarians are right – if individual citizens are better at doing things than the government is. Posted September 12, 2010.