2002.03.25: New Outcry Over Jailed Immigrants (NY Daily News)



Monday, March 25th 2002, 1:71AM

‘Set them free!”

That was the chant 300 protesters intoned as they approached Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where at least 40 Arab and South Asian immigrants have remained imprisoned since shortly after Sept. 11.

Hundreds more around the country are in a similar situation. Yet, six months after the World Trade Center attacks, none of them have been charged with any role in the tragedy, and the government has revealed little information about who they are, their whereabouts or what will happen to them.

Saturday’s unusually cold and windy weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the demonstrators – a coalition of trade unionists, immigrant organizations and civil rights groups – who marched from Ninth St. and Fifth Ave. in Park Slope, to the federal detention center at 29th St. and Third Ave. in Sunset Park.

There, carrying signs that read, “Tell us their names,” they held a spirited rally.

“There can be no justice for any of us if there is no justice for all of us,” said Michael Letwin, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325, and one of the rally organizers. “This is an assault on civil liberties and democratic rights that brings to mind other shameful episodes such as the Japanese-American internment in the 1940s.”

Even though protests have been held each Saturday at noon outside the prison since Jan. 26, this one, billed NYC Labor Solidarity With Immigrant Detainees, was the biggest to date.

“This is the first time the largely immigrant New York City labor movement has really gotten involved in supporting the Arab and South Asian immigrants imprisoned since the post-Sept. 11 crackdown on civil liberties,” said Livia Gershon, a member of Local 32B-32J.

In the first two months after the twin towers disaster, the government detained 1,200 immigrants, most of them of Arab, South Asian and Muslim background.

“This has taken racial profiling to a whole new level,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater NY Labor-Religion Coalition, which co-sponsored the rally. “The Bill of Rights is under attack.”

Under investigation

On March 14, Amnesty International made public the results of an investigation revealing that hundreds of people are still deprived of their freedom. The human rights group found out that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is detaining people on routine visa violations and holding them for weeks or months until the FBI “clears” them. The INS refuses to provide the names and locations of most of the detainees.

According to the Amnesty International report, the detainees are deprived of basic rights guaranteed under national and international law. These include the right to humane treatment, to be informed of the reasons for the detention, to challenge the lawfulness of the detention, to have prompt access to a lawyer and to be presumed innocent.

The Metropolitan Detention Center does not fare well in the report. In one clear example of civil rights violation, Amnesty International says that center staff told the wife of a detainee that her husband was not there, even though she had received letters from him postmarked from the facility. They also illegally barred her from visiting him.

Besides, the detainees are confined to cells 23 hours a day in cruel conditions, and 19 of the 30 people detained there did not have a lawyer as of late 2001, it is reported.

Traditionally, civil liberties and democratic rights become vulnerable in times of crisis, precisely when they are more essential than ever.

“That’s why I’m here today,” said Paul Frank, a member of Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000. “If something is not done now, what’s happening to these guys today can happen to all of us.”

E-mail: aruiz@edit.nydailynews.com

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