Ashcroft?s Assault on America

An interview with Pramila Jayapal

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In the wake of Thursday?s protests in Los Angeles over the arrest of more than 500 Iranian and other Muslim men who were complying with Attorney General John Ashcroft?s new immigrant registration order, we spoke with writer and activist Pramila Jayapal, founder and director of the Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington.

Attorney General John Ashcroft?s order to require registration of these men seems to be fraught with constitutional issues. Is there any movement to challenge the Justice Department in court on this matter?

The question of oversight of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice is one of the most important issues in the current landscape. In December 2001, at a Senate hearing, the attorney general said that those who question the policies of the Department of Justice are ?aiding and abetting terrorism.? Even senators on the Judiciary Committee have been unable to get the Department of Justice to provide information. Many of the actions of the attorney general are cloaked in the veil of ?national security??and this leaves too many members of Congress as well as the general public reluctant to challenge or question his authority.

One of the difficulties post-September 11 is that the attorney general is implementing little-used existing laws. The requirement for people to register, for example, has been on the books for many decades, but it has never been used. Now, it is being applied selectively to people on the basis of religion and country of origin. We are looking carefully at the mechanisms we have to challenge the constitutionality of such laws, and will be exploring ways to challenge this particular law in the courts. As you know, court challenges are long protracted battles, but we are certainly exploring all possibilities.



The attorney general has taken the passage of the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Bill as blanket authority to push through policies and procedures that not only erode constitutional and civil rights but also fundamentally alter the character of this country. The public and our elected officials need to reclaim what we want America to be. We need to make it clear that policies such as selective special registration do not make us any safer. Let?s start focusing on the things that really do make us safer, like improving our language capabilities in intelligence agencies, rather than actions that create a lot of noise, destroy innocent people?s lives, but don?t contribute to real safety.

The situation inL.A.this week certainly will not encourage others to come forward, given the alleged treatment of those detained. I wonder if this tactic is simply going to encourage more people to go underground.