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Linking together to form the backbone of an effort to stop terror at home, local civil rights lawyers said Thursday they were focused on ending a wave of violence against Arab-Americans following last week’s terrorist attacks. In a press conference at the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union headquarters, they called on lawyers and others to volunteer their time to help the victims. “It’s time for people who are not Arab … to stand up and say, ‘We support you,’ ” said Eva Patterson, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Through the Bar Association of San Francisco, lawyers willing to help will be given training to assist them in representing victims. “Patriotism is about tolerance and opening your arms,” Patterson said. The lawyers also warned of impending legislation being proposed by the Justice Department that would expand wiretap authority and allow deportations of immigrants without evidence. They said they would fight the proposals through politics or, if need be, the court system. Scores of Arab-Americans and people mistaken for such have been victimized in the wake of last week’s attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A family in San Mateo, Calif., was firebombed. Fake blood was strewn across the entrance to an Islamic community center in San Francisco. Police throughout the San Francisco Bay Area are investigating numerous similar incidents. “America is currently suffering a backlash that is nothing short of an epidemic of violence,” said Harmeet Dhillon, a Sikh and member of the South Asian Bar Association. “There are plenty of lawyers here in the Bay Area who are more than willing to assist in the civil prosecution of these hate crimes.” Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, a lawyer with the San Francisco-based InterGroup Clearinghouse, encouraged victims to come forward. “We know that there are many more that aren’t being reported.” BASF President Douglas Young, a partner at San Francisco-based Farella Braun & Martel, said every bar association in the Bay Area is supporting the training program. “Our strength as a country is our democracy and the rule of law,” Young said. “Our commitment to these principles is what unifies us all.” The press conference was part of a nationwide effort by rights groups to call for calm in the wake of the attacks. Also on Thursday, a coalition of more than 300 law professors and 150 organizations released a statement asking Congress to exercise caution when considering new proposals. It called on people to “applaud our political leaders in the days ahead who have the courage to say that our freedoms should not be limited.” Endorsing the statement were not only traditionally liberal civil rights groups, but conservative standard-bearers such as the Eagle Forum and Free Congress Foundation. BASF also announced the establishment of an endowment fund for victims of the terrorist attack in New York and Washington, D.C. It is seeking donations to help pay for probate and legal costs for victims. Morrison & Foerster partner James Brosnahan Jr. criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft for recent Justice Department proposals that he said curtail immigrants’ rights and give the government overly broad wiretap authority. “The attorney general is seeking vast powers beyond what our country has tolerated over the last 200 years,” Brosnahan said, adding that if enacted, mass deportations could be employed. “That marks [Ashcroft] as an extreme voice at this time.” Said Robert Rubin, the legal director for the LCCR: “The message to our immigrants is quite simple. You are expendable parts in our war on terrorism.” Whether Congress can resist the oncoming flood of legislative proposals remains to be seen. “We are hoping, through the political process, that some of these things can be resolved,” Rubin said. Last week, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was the lone vote against ceding President Bush the authority to act against terrorists. She has since reportedly been protected by armed guards, which a spokesman would neither confirm nor deny. “Our policy is we don’t discuss protection of members of Congress, or threats made against members of Congress,” a Capitol Hill police spokesperson said. Other rights groups such as San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation are also worried that changes in cyberlaws will go unnoticed amidst a drumbeat for vengeance. For example, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the ranking member of an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Justice, has called for encryption software to be written with a hole allowing law enforcement to see the contents of encrypted messages. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn has said her group will oppose any such legislation.

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