Guest blogger: Amna Akbar, Senior Research Scholar & Advocacy Fellow at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, and co-author of both reports mentioned below.
Cross-posted from Rights Working Group.
There are visible and less visible ways the government has targeted Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians since September 11, 2001. With the death of Osama bin Laden, however, mainstream pundits, commentators, and lawmakers have attempted to push us to forget the damage and the grief this “war on terror” has brought to our communities—and to immigrant communities and communities of color more broadly.
The “war on terror” has provided a rationale and an argument for an augmentation of state power. As in prior historical moments, the brunt of increased state power has fallen on vulnerable communities.
But it is important to remember and account for the ways in which our families and communities have been marked and have suffered. To grieve for the ways in which we have had to change.
This past month, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) has released two reports documenting, remembering, and memorializing. Both reports raise serious human rights concerns.
Under the Radar: Muslims Deported, Detained, and Denied on Unsubstantiated Terrorism Allegations– which we released with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)– draws on interviews with attorneys and community-based groups, court documents, and media accounts to identify five key under-documented patterns of how the U.S. government has discriminatorily abused the immigration legal system against Muslim immigrants. The patterns we document include the U.S. government’s use of unsubstantiated terrorism-related allegations without bringing official charges in cases involving ordinary immigration violations. These practices prejudice the immigration judge and place the Muslim immigrant in a precarious situation where he is unable to defend himself against the allegations. As a result, he is often pressured to self-deport.
Another pattern we document is the U.S. government’s use of flimsy immigration charges. For example, the government often uses false statement charges for failure to disclose tenuous ties to Muslim charitable organizations in a way that seems to target Muslim immigrants for religious and political activities and affiliations.
The overall effect of these practices is that religious, cultural, and political affiliations and lawful activities of Muslims are being construed as dangerous terrorism-related factors to justify detention, deportation, and denial of immigration benefits. The government seems to be targeting Muslim immigrants not for any particular acts, but on the basis of unsubstantiated innuendo drawing largely on their religious and ethnic identities, political views, employment histories, and ties to their home countries.
The patterns outlined in Under the Radar seem to be guided by racial and religious stereotypes, in a way that constitutes discrimination in violation of U.S. obligations under international human rights law. The patterns also suggest the United States is failing to uphold its international human rights obligations to guarantee the rights to due process; liberty and security of person; freedom of religion; freedom of expression and opinion; and the right to privacy and family. CHRGJ and AALDEF call on the government to put an immediate stop to the discriminatory targeting of Muslims through the immigration system, to provide greater transparency and accountability for immigration policies and enforcement.
Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’ critically examines three high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions and raises serious questions about the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in constructing the specter of “homegrown” terrorism through the deployment of paid informants to encourage terrorist plots in Muslim communities. Focusing on the government’s cases against the Newburgh Four, the Fort Dix Five, and Shahawar Matin Siraj, the report relies on court documents, media accounts, and interviews with family members of the defendants to critically assess the government’s practices. The report also, lays bare the devastating toll these practices have had on the families involved.
In the cases we examined, the government sent paid informants into Muslim communities, without any basis for suspicion of criminal activity. The government’s informants introduced, cultivated, and then aggressively pushed ideas about violent jihad, encouraging the defendants to believe that it was their duty to take action against the United States. The informants also selected or encouraged the proposed locations that the defendants would later be accused of targeting, and provided the defendants with—or encouraged the defendants to acquire—material evidence, such as weaponry or violent videos, which would later be used to convict them. The defendants in these cases have all been convicted and currently face prison sentences ranging from 25 years to life.
The families caught up in these abusive government practices have been torn apart. As a result of these prosecutions, they have lost their loved ones to prison, but they have also been branded as families of terrorists. They have lost jobs, family, and friends. Though many of them are organizing for change, the devastating impacts cannot be overestimated.
A number of cases around the country, raising similar concerns, suggest that these practices are illustrative of larger patterns of law enforcement activities targeting Muslim communities. The report considers key trends in counterterrorism law enforcement policies that have facilitated these practices, including the government’s promulgation of so-called radicalization theories that justify the abusive targeting of entire communities based on the unsubstantiated notion that Muslims in the U.S. are “radicalizing.” The prosecutions that result from these practices are central to the government’s claim that the country faces a “homegrown threat” of terrorism, and have bolstered calls for the continued use of informants in Muslim communities.
These practices are violative of U.S. obligations to guarantee, without discrimination, the rights to: a fair trial, religion, expression, and opinion; and effective remedy. The report calls on the government to stop discriminating against Muslims in counterterrorism investigations; to hold hearings on the impacts that current law enforcement practices are having on Muslim communities; and to revise the guidelines that currently govern FBI and NYPD activities and allow for such abusive practices to go unchecked.
Both reports raise serious concerns about the ways in which the U.S. government is marking Muslims and Muslim communities as particularly dangerous. These practices have taken profound tolls on our communities. The need to remember, and to remain vigilant, remains.
Photo courtesy of muslimmedianetwork.com