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Amnesty International Alleges Violations of International Law in U.S. Detention of Immigrants after 9/11
by Carl R. Baldwin

A press release and report issued by Amnesty International on March 14, 2002, alleges serious violations of international law in the conditions to which immigrant detainees have been subjected in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Of particular concern are the "reports of incommunicado detention, harsh custody conditions and the lack of information on those held." The report can be found at www.amnetsy.org.

The report notes that in the two months following 9/11 more than 1,200 foreign nationals were swept up and placed in detention. Partial data released by the government in November revealed that most were men of Arab or South Asian origin, and were detained for immigration violations. Another 100 or so were charged with criminal offenses, none of them related to terrorism. On the subject of criminal offenses, see the important article that appeared in The Village Voice during the week of March 6-12, 2002, entitled "Endgame," by Kareem Fahim. The case there under discussion concerned a Canadian of Pakistani origin, who was ordered deported on September 22. His deportation to Canada was not promptly effectuated, however, and he was instead held until December 20, when he was charged with having used a false ID document to obtain work authorization.

Martin Stolar, his lawyer, made this comment: "I believe that they are filing these low-level, minor violations to justify the unconstitutional sweep that occurred after September 11. It provides political cover for the roundup." Claudia Slovinsky, an immigration attorney who represents post-9/11 detainees, had this interpretation: "Ashcroft is interested in defending his dragnet. The higher the number he can charge with crimes, the greater his ability to say: 'See? We told you they were criminals.' " One of the really alarming things in The Village Voice article is the evidence that several detainees who had made appointments to be interviewed by Amnesty International were abruptly either transferred to another facility before the interview could take place, or were charged with a crime.

Amnesty shares with immigration lawyers a concern for the INS blanket post-9/11 practice of detaining immigrants for an indefinite period in "emergency or other extraordinary circumstances." Also a matter of grave concern, as it is for immigration lawyers, is the INS practice of overriding the decisions of immigration judges as to the granting of parole. Since indefinite detention is being implemented by the INS, Amnesty has expressed shock at the severity of the conditions of confinement. Why, it asks, is it necessary to place detainees who have overstayed their visas, and who are not terrorist suspects, in solitary confinement, to be handcuffed on the way to the shower, and shackled when appearing before immigration judges in the detention facility courtroom? To make matters worse, the immigration hearings, according to a September 21, 2001, Memo from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy, are closed to the family and to the press and public, and so the veil of secrecy covers everything that happens to these detainees.

Among its key recommendations, Amnesty calls upon the U.S. government to: "Provide in full the information requested under the FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act request by the Ameriean Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and a number of other organizations), make public information on the number and nationalities of those still detained, the reasons for their detention, the date and place of arrest, date and (itemization of) charges, and place of detention, provide the numbers and nationalities of those deported or removed under voluntary departure arrangements and the countries to which they have been returned."

For the life of me, I cannot understand why our government could have any hesitation in supplying this basic information, the provision of which could not possibly have any adverse effect on the hunt for terrorists. I look forward to the determination of the FOIA request, filed in the D.C. District Court on December 5, 2001, by a federal judge who is not beholden to the Attorney General.


About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be rached by e-mail at Carl.Baldwin@immigrationnewsmonthly.com.

He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," 1997, Allworth Press, 10 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010 (212) 777-8395. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered in both an English Edition and a Spanish version from www.amazon.com


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