Fear Factor

When "immigrant" and "terrorist" are made synonymous

"I have children, and I fear for them," says one. "I mean, there's language in the Patriot Act II (a piece of draft legislation that has yet to be introduced in Congress, though it's made the rounds on Capitol Hill) that talks about de-naturalizing people. That's us. That freaks me out."

The other foreign-born attorney shakes his head in disgusted assent: "I went to law school to learn about how to use the law to advocate for people's rights. We've entered an era in which the laws we have are being warped to put people like me in danger. And I'll tell you something: The reason none of us wants to speak on the record is because we are all convinced that there are parts of the federal government that are practicing retribution."


Waiting, wondering, worrying: The early morning line at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Waiting, wondering, worrying: The early morning line at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

When the news broke on April 1, I found it hard to believe that the arrest of 30-year-old activist Omar Jamal, who founded the Somali Justice Center in St. Paul and has openly accused police and elected officials of racism, was anything but politically motivated, although attorneys from the Homeland Security Department still contend that that's not the case. The charges against Jamal are based on arcane immigration documents filed five years ago in Memphis. Just to check myself, though, I decided to run my conspiratorial theory past the attorneys I had met for lunch. Several laughed. "There's no way they would dig something like that up unless he was on some sort of hit list," one of them said.

Reading the Star Tribune's coverage only fortified my impression that most journalists aren't buying the official line either. Reporter Allie Shah's April 7 piece, "For Local Muslims, a Fearful Time," made reference to the unnerving effect of the arrest. Staff writer Curt Brown, who covered Jamal's bail hearing, also gave a striking amount of space to advocates contending that Jamal has been targeted. On Saturday, the paper covered a rally held for the "embattled Somali leader," making it clear the government's thinly veiled excuses are just that. (Every now and then, the "liberal media" pulls its weight. Here's hoping they stay on the story.)

There is one remark by Jamal that I can't get out of my head: "If their aim was to pressure me and scare the hell out of me, it's working."

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