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Rights Group Accuses US Government of Actions Harming Immigrants - 2002-09-06

A Midwest-U.S. based immigrants rights coalition is calling on the United States government to reverse what it calls a series of actions that have harmed immigrants and refugees. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights says the new measures amount to a quiet backlash against immigrants.

The report issued Thursday by the Chicago-based coalition names 24 government actions enacted since last September it says have hurt immigrants. Among them: secret immigration hearings, special requirements for Arab and Muslim visa applications, government interviews of men from Arab and Muslim countries, and a requirement that noncitizens notify U.S. immigration officials when they move to a new residence.

Joshua Hoyt, who directs the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said "instead of making America safer, these heavy-handed, mean-spirited and un-American actions have [unfairly singled out] all of America's immigrant and refugee communities."

Many Arab-Americans have said they feel singled out by the government's new measures, enacted to help catch potential terrorists before they strike. Nareman Taha heads the Arab-American Family Services agency in Chicago. She said the post-September 11 public backlash against her community was bad enough, but being singled out by the U.S. government makes her angry. "I, myself, teach my children to honor, love and respect this country," she said. "But, I will not teach them to defend or prove their patriotism. They are born citizens of this country and they are and will be as patriotic as any other American citizen."

Nationwide, more than 1,200 people have been detained for suspected links to terrorism. Most are Arab or Arab-American. Ms. Taha said her agency gets telephone calls from the wives of detained men who have no heard from their husbands and do not know why they are being detained.

Coalition director Joshua Hoyt is also worried that the federal government might start asking local police departments to help enforce immigration laws. He said local police often lack training and understanding of immigration law. "If you try to turn every police officer in the country into an officer of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, then every traffic stop becomes a possible grounds for deportation," he said. "You will end any cooperation between immigrants and the local police departments."

The coalition also says post-September 11 worried have slowed the flow of refugees into the United States. This year, Illinois has welcomed about 500 refugees. Most years, 5,000 move to this Midwestern state.

Mr. Hoyt said the coalition and other immigrant advocacy groups will be pressuring members of Congress to scale back some of the government's actions.

Still, there are others who say the United States has not done enough since last September to keep potentially dangerous people out of the country. The Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform is criticizing the government for what it calls a failure to control U.S. borders and effectively screen people entering the United States.

It also says the government is not doing enough to enforce immigration laws within the country. The federation cites immigrant rights groups among what it calls special interests that have been working to weaken U.S. immigration laws for nearly three decades.