Whose Smoke? Whose Holes?

Minnesota's Male Immigrants Ready For A Broad Justice-department Sweep

As of last week, local law-enforcement agencies still weren't saying whether or not they would participate in the process, in part because Heffelfinger was still determining how much personnel he would need. According to Minneapolis Police Department spokeswoman Cyndi Montgomery, "We haven't received any request as of yet. When we do we'll respond on the basis of our policies and procedures." A spokesperson for the St. Paul police said the department had had no "official" request from Heffelfinger, but would "evaluate [their] ability to support him based on what he asks [them] to do." Nationally, some agencies, notably the police department in Portland, Oregon, have refused to participate on the grounds that it might be a violation of state civil-rights statutes. Some local critics have suggested that Minnesota agencies also decline, on the grounds that participation would go against the spirit of recently passed legislation meant to eliminate racial profiling.

"It's a giant fishing expedition of a specific group of people, without probable cause," argues Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. "Put it this way: If we want to eliminate the Mafia, should we go talk to all Sicilian-Americans between the age of 18 and 50 and ask if they know anything about the Mafia? How about asking all black males between the ages of 18 and 30 what they know about black street gangs? Oh, I forgot--we already do that."

"This is not racial profiling," Heffelfinger insists. "People are not chosen because of race or even national origin, but because they are from areas where recent terrorism activity has emanated." He adds that he plans to use a combination of FBI and local police officers to conduct the statewide interviews. "Since September 11, we have enjoyed a good relationship between all local, state, and federal levels of law enforcement, and I expect that to continue. However, if for any reason a police department does not wish to participate, that is their prerogative."

Who exactly makes up the pool of interviewees in the state is unclear. A popular assumption is that Minnesota's abnormally large Somali-immigrant population will be heavily represented, but Thal says that may not be the case. According to the Justice Department initiative, those with tourist, student, or business visas will constitute most, if not all, of the interview subjects. "Those aren't the typical ways Somalis enter the country. They usually come as refugees or through family-based petitions. Somalia hasn't had a stable government in about ten years, so there haven't been a lot of passports or visas, that kind of documentation," Thal says. "There are a large number of Pakistanis here, and people from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and some of the former Soviet republics. We don't know what the breakdown will be.

"It will be interesting to see a year from now what organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have to say about the United States," Thal concludes. "We are often looked at by the rest of the world as a model of democracy and a protector of rights. I think we need to take a careful examination of how far we are going in the other direction."

Meanwhile, the interrogation process continues apace. According to the memo sent to Heffelfinger and others, the Justice Department would like all of the interviews wrapped up by December 21. But who is talked to and what is learned will not be made public. "This is a matter under investigation, so the results won't be released," Heffelfinger says, again sounding a lot like Jack Webb's Sgt. Friday. "Nor will the media be notified when it is over."

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