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This isn’t the easiest time to be a Muslim in America, as Sohail Mohammed well knows. An immigration lawyer based in Clifton, New Jersey, he’s also GC of the American Muslim Union. Since 9/11, he has represented 29 clients who have been deported on immigration law violations (none were charged with terrorism). Currently he’s advising Islamic men on how to comply with the government’s “special registration” of foreign nationals from countries identified as terrorist harbors. A 39-year-old native of India, Mohammed has handled immigration cases for almost a decade. He’s also been kept busy by his work with the Muslim Union, an advocacy group for the Islamic community of Paterson, New Jersey — the second-largest in the United States, after metropolitan Detroit. Mohammed spoke to interim associate editor Joan Oleck in January about balancing his multiple roles. Corporate Counsel: The government is currently conducting a special registration of male foreign nationals, 16 and older, from two dozen Muslim countries. How has it affected your work? Sohail Mohammed: Thanks to the Justice Department, I’m busy. Registration started in November. Just today at the mosque, people were asking, “Should I register or not?” What they were saying was, “If I go there, and they detain me . . . am I walking into a shark’s mouth?” CC: How did you get involved in the post — 9/11 detentions? SM: We started getting calls from family members saying they couldn’t locate loved ones. And I said, “Oh, gee, that’s simple, I can just make one phone call and get this information from the [Immigration and Naturalization Service].” [But] when I called the INS, I learned that information was not available. They said, “We have strict orders that we can neither admit nor deny that this person is in custody or not in custody.” CC: What were some of the charges your clients faced? SM: Minor violations, which were never [before] the subject of a prosecution — overstaying their visa, for instance. CC: How were their civil liberties infringed? SM: What was the probable cause to bring most of my clients into deportation or detention proceedings in the first place? One client was merely asking a police officer for directions in Newark and was taken into custody for a visa violation. CC: How is the federal government doing in terms of balancing civil rights versus national security? SM: A “C” would be the top grade I would assign. And I say this in a cautious manner, because I fully respect the government’s need to secure our borders. But in making “Fortress America,” we cannot basically take our Constitution and rip it up and say it does not exist. So if we are asking, “Is there a balance?” I certainly don’t see that, [either] in terms of security [or] the preservation of civil rights. CC: Still, a reality check — we’re all scared by Al Qaeda and what it may be up to in the U.S. The Muslim countries of the Middle East have been linked to Al Qaeda. So couldn’t you say that ethnic profiling is fair if, for instance, you get on a plane and four young Middle Eastern men get on with you? SM: I agree! I would have agreed with Mr. Ashcroft and everyone on September 12, 2001. I would have agreed in October 2001. But it’s 16 months [later] now. We have done everything we can in terms of profiling, in terms of picking people out because they look different, they look suspicious, they sound different. But what have we gotten? Have we prosecuted a single person from all of the detentions we’ve done so far, to be able to say, “Aha! Enforcement is paying off because we caught this big person [or cracked] this big ring”? . . . 9/11 has pointed out one thing: It’s not about the aggressive enforcement we’re engaged in, it’s about the intelligence-sharing we’re lacking. CC: Is racial or ethnic profiling ever justified? SM: Profiling to an extent can be justified. But you have to have objective criteria. If you are looking at a person traveling on a one-way ticket or carrying substantial cash, then you can take the position, “Oh, he’s male, he’s from the Mideast, [we should] focus on him.” But if law enforcement focuses only on Arabs and Muslims, then you have situations like [alleged shoe bomber] Richard Reid. The guy doesn’t have a Muslim name, and he’s from a non-Muslim country. If you rely on subjective criteria — saying that race or ethnicity carries a propensity to commit crime — you’ll [still] have Richard Reids committing havoc.

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