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The Immigration and Naturalization Service has released documentary evidence showing that the handling of Muslims arrested on immigration charges after Sept. 11 has been fraught with delay and sloppy bookkeeping and that due process was shortchanged following intervention of the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center. The heavily redacted, 118-page “Special Interest List” was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in its Freedom of Information Act suit against the Department of Justice. It confirms defense attorneys’ suspicions about treatment of men held since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — not on criminal charges but on immigration violations — the majority of them in New Jersey’s Passaic, Hudson and Middlesex county jails. The list gives the name, alien number, arrest and detention dates and other basic information for about 736 detainees. Most of the information, however, has been blacked out. What remains are the place of birth for each detainee, the arrest date and the date he was served with a charging document, plus the various categories of information about each man that the INS tracked. ACLU spokeswoman Emily Whitfield says the redacted list makes it difficult for lawyers and others to figure out what the information means. She says the ACLU filed a new discovery motion Jan. 23 in U.S. District Court in Washington, demanding a less blotchy record. The data are inconsistent, but of the 619 detainees for whom both an arrest date and a charging date are given, some waited in jail for weeks and some for months before being charged, despite an INS regulation, at 8 CFR 287, stating that a detainee should be charged within 48 hours of arrest “except in the event of emergency or other extraordinary circumstance in which case a determination will be made within an additional reasonable period of time.” For some detainees that “additional reasonable period of time” was as much as four months, the list shows. A Jordanian man arrested on Sept. 13 was held in jail without being charged until Jan. 4, 2002, and an Iranian man arrested on Sept. 11 wasn’t charged until Nov. 7. Those details dovetail with the protests made by attorneys who represent detainees. “This was a major, major problem initially,” says Clifton, N.J., solo practitioner Sohail Mohammed, “because when families were trying to find out where their loved ones were, they were not in the system,” and hence they couldn’t get any information, he says. For example, former detainee Mohammed Irshaid, a civil engineer from Clifton who has lived in the United States for 22 years and has three American children, was picked up in early November while he was waiting for the INS to process his green card application. Irshaid, a Jordanian Palestinian, spent 23 days in jail before his attorney, Claudia Slovinsky, drafted a motion for a speedy bond hearing. At the hearing, the INS still had not presented charges, so he was released, Slovinsky says. “The amazing thing is they then served us with a notice to appear but they never filed it with the court. This guy has now been out for two months. Out on bond, on nothing,” Slovinsky says. The New York solo practitioner, who represents about 14 detainees, has used the same tactic in at least one other case. Kerry Gill, spokesman for the INS in New Jersey, says the agency does not comment on individual cases. He referred calls to Russell Bergeron, an INS spokesman in Washington, who did not return a call by press time. An examination of the list shows that Irshaid was not alone in his wait for overdue charges: � In 415 cases, or 67 percent of the 619 cases that record both arrest and charge dates, the INS filed charges before the arrest or within 48 hours of the arrest. � In 70 cases, or 11 percent, the INS brought charges within three to seven days. � In 134 cases, or 22 percent, the INS took longer than seven days to file charges. � Overall, the INS took longer than the required 48 hours to file charges in 204 cases, or 33 percent. Justice Department spokesman Dan Nelson says the INS did its own analysis of the cases, and came up with slightly different statistics: � In 59 percent of cases, the INS brought charges within seven days. � In 15 percent of cases, the INS took between eight and 30 days to file charges. � In 2 percent of cases, charges took more than 30 days to be filed. � In 13 percent of cases, aliens were detained on outstanding orders of deportation. � In 11 percent of cases, aliens were charged with criminal violations of INS law, such as passport fraud. Nelson declines to provide whole numbers to accompany those percentages. Whichever numbers are correct, it appears that the INS took advantage of the “additional reasonable period of time” clause within the rules. Some attorneys believe that the treatment of illegal immigrants has been stricter than the treatment required for suspected terrorists under the USA PATRIOT Act — the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 — passed as a response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Section 412 (a)(5) of the act, which amends � 236 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., states: “The Attorney General shall place an alien detained under paragraph (1) in removal proceedings, or shall charge the alien with a criminal offense, not later than 7 days after the commencement of such detention. If the requirement of the preceding sentence is not satisfied, the Attorney General shall release the alien.” “It doesn’t override the INS regulations,” says Slovinsky. “Ironically, the USA PATRIOT Act offers more protection [for criminals and terrorists], and there has to be a reason given [for the detention]. Here, [with immigrants], you can just do nothing.” Newark solo practitioner Regis Fernandez, who has emerged as the head of a group of New Jersey attorneys representing detainees, says the 48-hour rule is useless anyway. “The only reason we have to cite it is in the file of a habeas corpus, and if we do that then they file the charge and it’s moot,” he says. “We never use it.” Mohammed agrees. “It practically doesn’t matter. You make a big stink, you try to file a complaint in federal court to have them released and you know what they will do? They go ‘OK, here it is!’ Right after the application is filed.” STAR TREK — THE AGENCY Among the other curiosities presented by the release of the list is the heading “SIOC FBI Interest.” Underneath that heading is a very small redaction on each case, enough, perhaps, for a yes/no response or a checkbox. The Strategic Information and Operations Center is a windowless maze of offices on the fifth floor of the FBI building in Washington. It has been described in the media as “Star Trek-like.” Its 40,000-square-foot space features 5-by-15-foot video screens on the walls — none of which connect to the outside — multiple phones and computer video displays at each desk, and a jamming system to prevent cellular phone calls. SIOC’s function is to monitor foreign and domestic intelligence and to act as a headquarters in the event of emergencies such as Sept. 11. It also houses a full-time official from the National Security Agency’s Cryptologic Security Group, which provides SIOC with information from the government’s worldwide electronic eavesdropping operations. Other list headings provide for comments from the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force Working Group. Some cases have only a cursory sentence from the JTTF; others have entire paragraphs. The secrecy surrounding the cases has provoked legal challenges. In addition to the national ACLU’s suit in federal court, which is demanding a full accounting of the case list, ACLU-NJ recently sued Hudson and Passaic counties for the same information. Those suits were joined last Tuesday by one from the ACLU in Michigan, which has gathered three Detroit newspapers as plaintiffs in the hope of gaining access to Special Interest case court proceedings. The suits are also starting to provoke political responses. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has joined the ACLU as a plaintiff in the Michigan suit. And Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., toured the Passaic County Jail on Jan. 18 to see detainees’ conditions for himself. “These indefinite lockups don’t strike me as consistent with the principles of due process that we practice in this country,” Corzine was quoted as saying in The Record of Hackensack, N.J. “I think the INS needs to get on the stick and adjudicate these cases.” The pressure has led the INS to grant access to the detainees by civil rights organizations. Gill confirms that Amnesty International wants to tour both jails to inspect humanitarian conditions. “We’ve granted that request,” Gill says. He expects the tour to take place within a couple of weeks. In addition, the American Friends Service Committee Immigration Rights Program has been granted permission to conduct know-your-rights sessions within the jails, according to program director Amy Gottlieb. For some detainees, however, an interesting deadline looms: Many who have been ordered removed from the country are coming up on their 90-day deportation deadlines. The Immigration and Nationality Act states, at 8 U.S.C. 1231, that “when an alien is ordered removed, the Attorney General shall remove the alien within a period of 90 days.” Clifton lawyer Mohammed, who represents about 10 detainees, worries that the INS is keeping the detainees beyond the statutory period. “I have clients who have stayed beyond the 90 days now.” Paterson, N.J., solo practitioner Aslan Soobzokov said last Tuesday that he has two clients who received removal orders Nov. 1. “I will file two more habeas petitions on these detainees,” he says. “By my math that [90-day] date is today.”

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