On March 23, a van parked outside the home of a Palestinian American was bombed – just one of many racist assaults against Muslim and Arab Americans spurred on by the war against Iraq. But attacks against innocent immigrants are not only coming from racist groups or individuals. The government is also systematically racially profiling Arab and Muslim Americans.
Shortly after the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) arrested over 1,200 Middle Eastern immigrants simply because of their country of origin. Many immigrants were detained without being charged for weeks, or forever – a clear violation of habeas corpus. Not one was charged in connection with 9/11, yet no restitution was ever made for their needless imprisonment.
Recently, Attorney General John Ashcroft created the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), requiring all immigrants from a list of predominantly Muslim countries to register with the INS. Of the 24,000 immigrants required to comply with the new law, a significant number were held without charge or threatened with deportation for minor immigration offences. One apprehensive man asked: “I just want to know, if I go into the building, will I come out?” (Christian Science Monitor, 2/6/03)
Patriot Act II
In February, a secret draft of the “Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003,” commonly known as Patriot Act II, was leaked to the press. When the public got word of the enormous attacks on our democratic rights being planned, the bill was immediately dropped.
Patriot Act II would have prohibited disclosure of names or information about immigrants detained during terrorism investigations. Immigrants could then be detained indefinitely without their family and friends knowing why or where, legalizing a state of affairs that has become common since 9/11.
But immigrants are not the only people targeted by Patriot Act II. “Any American can…relinquish his citizenship by serving in a hostile terrorist organization…This would include both being a member of and providing material support to any group designated by the government as a foreign terrorist organization.” Targeted individuals could potentially find themselves indefinitely detained.
The first Patriot Act passed shortly after 9/11 legalized phone-tapping and eliminated requirements that federal agents secure warrants to search houses of whoever they designate “suspected terrorists.” Patriot Act II goes even further, for example, by proposing to create a DNA database of “suspected terrorists.”
The first Patriot Act defines terrorism so vaguely that anyone peacefully protesting could be considered a terrorist if the government claims their actions “appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”
The government claims these restrictions on civil liberties are necessary to catch terrorists, but repressive laws have never succeeded in stopping terrorism. It is only by building a powerful international workers’ movement against the poverty and oppression of capitalism and imperialism that terrorism can be eradicated.
Trying to Roll Back Our Civil Rights
The real reason behind the government’s whipping up of racism and attacking immigrants’ rights is to increase public support for their wars, and to justify granting themselves new powers to repress movements for social change within the US. In many ways, Patriot Acts I and II are a return to the COINTELPRO policies that the government was forced to officially end in 1971 under enormous pressure from popular movements. After its defeat in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, the ruling class was forced to accept a series of reforms that curtailed the repressive powers of the police, FBI, and other agencies.
Since that time, the ruling class has been waiting for an opportunity to re-legalize the repression of social justice activists. 9/11 created the window of opportunity to ram Patriot Act I through Congress. While public outrage about Patriot Act II caused it to be shelved for now, it could become law if another terrorist attack takes place on US soil.
The ruling class is focusing on racially profiling Arab and Muslim Americans today, but this is setting a precedent that will be used against all people of color, workers, and activists. Working class people need to organize massive protests to stop racist violence, discrimination, and the rollback of our hard-won freedoms. All workers stand to benefit from defending our fellow Arab and Muslim American workers, to keep corporate bosses and politicians from dividing and exploiting the working class.