Border guards recently began detaining Wissam Charafeddine every time he crosses from Windsor into the United States. Without explanation, he has been handcuffed in front of his parents and held apart from his pregnant wife for hours in isolated detention.
Charafeddine says he has done nothing wrong, “not even a driving ticket.” But authorities, who always release him, say there is no remedy. Charafeddine is among a large group of Arab-Americans and Muslims who are detained for undisclosed reasons whenever they cross the border.
So far, Charafeddine is affected only when he goes to Canada. But as early as this week, the U.S. Department of Justice says it will announce a “terrorist profile” by which Muslim men of Arab and Pakistani descent who frequently travel abroad and maintain extensive international contacts may be subject not only to stops at the border but also to full-fledged national security investigations, which may include electronic surveillance, detentions, searches and interrogations, regardless of whether they are suspected of wrongdoing.
“There will not be equality under the law, for me. And I don’t think that’s the real solution for terrorism,” said Charafeddine, a naturalized American citizen who is an e-commerce business consultant. “It’s not solving the roots of the problem.”
Civil rights organizations are lobbying Congress, alerting their members and preparing to fight the new guidelines. While federal officials say the department will not violate the U.S. constitution, civil liberties advocates say they are alarmed.
“What is dangerous is that they’ve moved away from reasonable suspicion of criminality into the area of what they are calling suspicious behavior,” said Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., which is using lobbying resources and preparing legal challenges to the initiative.
Civil liberties advocates say the rules could eventually affect many people, including immigrants and people who do business in other countries. They call Muslims and Arab men “the canaries in the coal mine of civil liberties.”
Representatives for the Department of Justice say the terrorist profile could be presented in draft form as early as this week and enacted later this summer. “It’s necessary to put in place regulations that will allow the FBI to transform itself into an intelligence-gathering organization in addition to just a crime-solving organization,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey told the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in July.
A spokesman said the department will proceed appropriately. “The guidelines could not, and would not purport to, circumvent constitutional limitations on the use of race, religion or other protected classes in all manner of investigations,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the National Security Division.
But a raft of civil liberties, religious and ethnic groups say the Bush administration is not to be trusted on this matter.
The ACLU, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Arab American Institute and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee say the guidelines amount to an 11th hour initiative to codify the sort of profiling the administration said, for years, that it has not executed. (MORE)