Oct. 19, 2006 – A civil rights group is suing to force the release of documents that plaintiffs say might prove federal agents illegally discriminated against Arab-Americans and Muslims during a massive immigration sweep in 2004.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed the suit in federal court on Tuesday against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its sub-agency US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Committee is demanding immediate disclosure of records detailing the national origin, ethnicity, race, religion and gender of 237 people detained by federal agents during the 2004 so-called "October Plan."
According to an ICE press release, the initiative was "designed to locate immigration status violators who may pose an elevated criminal or national security threat."
The Anti-Discrimination Committee argues that DHS and ICE may have illegally used the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) to detain suspects. NSEERS is an interrogation and data-gathering program created in 2002 by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. It requires men from predominantly Muslim countries to submit to fingerprinting, photographing and questioning when entering the United States.
The Anti-Discrimination Committee first requested records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in December 2004; DHS denied the filing, both initially and on appeal. The DHS said the release of the detaineesâ€™ nationalities "could harm" law enforcement activities by "revealing where ICE focuses its resources."
The Anti-Discrimination Committee says ICE has yet to reply to a FOIA request filed in February 2006 for general data on the race, ethnicity, religion and gender of the people rounded-up. The Committee said the request was "intended to assure Arab-Americans and Muslims that their communities were not being selectively targeted."
The Committee argued the withholding of these documents is unlawful and releasing them would not interfere with any ongoing law enforcement efforts.
"The governmentâ€™s own justifications for refusing to disclose the generalized data [Anti-Discrimination Committee] requested cast serious doubt on the governmentâ€™s assertions that it is not, and has not been, engaged in profiling," wrote the complainants. "Indeed, those justifications â€“ including the remarkable claim that releasing such generalized data would reveal a law enforcement technique â€“ all but confirm that that is precisely what the government has been doing."