LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California today stepped up its campaign to make available brochures in English, Spanish and Arabic advising people about their rights when stopped by the FBI, police or INS officials. The pamphlet ? "Know Your Rights: What to Do If You're Stopped by the Police, the FBI, the INS or the Customs Service" ? contains information for citizens and non-citizens alike. It is intended to inform those who might become innocent targets caught in the Justice Department's increasingly expanding dragnet. The FBI recently announced they are seeking to interview over 5,000 men who have entered the United States on non-immigrant visas from January 1, 2000 to the present.
"These brochures will not only inform, but reassure people of their rights when speaking to law enforcement," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU/SC. "We are concerned by Attorney General Ashcroft's announcement that the FBI will be questioning thousands of young men from Middle Eastern countries simply because of where they are from and not based on suspicion ? this sets a very dangerous precedent. The probability that innocent people will have their rights trampled upon is very troubling; when you cast such a wide net inevitably a good number of people with no connection to terrorism will be caught in it, we don't want to do something that later generations will have to apologize for."
"While we recognize that interviews are necessary in conducting an investigation," said Michel Shehadeh, West Coast Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), "we are troubled by the fact that this list seems to target people on the basis of their age, gender and national origin. These pamphlets will inform people of their rights and help minimize the potential for civil liberties abuses."
The ACLU/SC immediately met with Arab-American and Muslim community groups to discuss concerns within those communities in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. In response to reports of discrimination against Muslims and Arab-Americans after September 11, the ACLU/SC set up a Hotline to register harassment and discrimination complaints and created the 'Know Your Rights' brochures.
The ACLU has expressed concern that some people currently under investigation have been detained and held without notification of family members or access to legal council. A coalition of civil liberties, human rights and electronic privacy organizations joined the ACLU in filing a Freedom of Information Act request for information about the detainees on October 29, 2001. The Justice Department has not answered the request.
The "Know Your Rights" brochures are available at the ACLU/SC office and can be obtained by calling the discrimination Hotline at 213/977-5291. Alternatively, the brochures can be downloaded at the ACLU/SC Homepage.