Are we, in our post-9.11 national paranoia, allowing our government to single out and persecute non-native Muslim males? Yes, WWII Japanese internments camps may have happened 60 years ago, but I'm wondering if we learned anything from that experience? It's not a stretch to envision our government heading down that path.
This is still America, and those of us who live here- citizen or no- have some basic, uh, what's the word I'm looking for here...inalienable rights. Unless, it would seem, you're male and unfortunate enough to have emigrated from any of 20 listed Muslim nations.
The registration comes as part of a Department of Justice initiative to keep closer tabs on male immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.
"We've been swamped with terrified clients," said Imran Mirza, a local immigration lawyer.
While detentions in other areas like Los Angeles have drawn protests, Mirza noted that the process in Houston has not created much attention.
"It is outrageous that there has not been more of an outcry" in Houston, he said.
Men who come from any of the 20 listed Muslim nations are required to appear at the nearest Immigration and Naturalization Service office to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed.
Males aged 16 and older from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Libya were required to register by Dec. 16. Those from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen must register by Jan. 10.
Finally, those from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must register between Jan. 13 and Feb. 21. Houston has a large Pakistani community and a fairly large number of Saudis.
Government interrogators question the immigrants about everything from their credit card accounts to their opinion of President Bush, said city Councilman Gordon Quan, who is an immigration lawyer.
The government also checks to see if the immigrants carry a current visa. Those immigrants considered to be in the country illegally are held for further questioning and possible deportation.
Officials defend the process as the first step in a long-overdue effort to monitor the comings and goings of foreigners.
"We should have been doing a better job of keeping track of these records before," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Corallo said some of the immigrants were detained only for a few hours until it could be verified that they were in the country legally. He noted that those held longer are alleged to have gotten in serious trouble.
"A number of these people are wanted on criminal charges -- including robbery," he said. Others were in the country illegally, he said.
But lawyers note that immigration law is so complex that determining who is in the country illegally can be a matter subject to interpretation.
Most of us have already heard stories of families being separated, of Muslims males being detained indefinitely without charges, and for what? The INS seems to have the right to hold any "questionable" male for as long as they deem "necessary" in order to resolve whatever the "problem" may be. This puts frightened men, many of whom are guilty only of being a Muslim male, at the mercy of faceless bureaucrats with their own agendas and prejudices.
What I find truly interesting is the lack of protest from civil rights groups. The silence emanating from African-American and Hispanic groups has been deafening. Leaders like Jesse Jackson have made careers out of trumpeting the mantra that an injustice against one is an injustice against us all. That would certainly seem to hold true here, so where are the voices decrying this gross misuse of government power? What if the males being detained were African-American? Or Hispanic?
Oh, right, there's a war on. Loose lips sinks ships....