Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5762

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Deportation efforts are lawful, sensible -- HERE we go again. The Justice Department wants to make it a top priority to deport some 6,000 illegal aliens from nations where terrorist activity is known to be high. And, once again, the civil libertarians are banging their spoons on their high chairs.

Here are the facts: There are roughly 314,000 so-called "absconders" in the United States. These are immigrants who've overstayed their visas and who've essentially jumped bail rather than face their deportation hearings.

Most of the absconders are Hispanic and rarely get tracked down by an overworked or simply unconcerned immigration service. The Justice Department has decided to get serious about tracking down absconders from nations where terrorist activity, specifically al-Qaida activity, is high -- i.e. Middle Easterners.

No one disputes these facts. What the civil liberties industry disputes is the notion that such Middle-Eastern-centered action is fair or necessary. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute declared on CBS News, "Is it a profiling issue? Of course it is. Is it an effective law enforcement tool to deal with terrorism? Of course it's not." Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights added, "It doesn't seem to offer the real substance of meaningful law enforcement."

Well, there are two issues here. First, by definition, this is "meaningful law enforcement," because immigration law is finally being enforced. As a matter of immigration policy - we'll get to terrorism in a second - we didn't have "meaningful law enforcement" before Sept. 11, because nobody was doing anything. Deporting people who are supposed to be deported is what the government is supposed to be doing. Whether or not they're potential terrorists is a separate issue.

So what about that issue? Isn't it unfair to deport Middle Eastern illegals when we're not deporting Chinese illegals? "It really hurts to feel that you're being treated differently because of your ethnic background or your religion," Tanya Kadah, the administrator of the Arab American Cultural Center in San Jose, told the Mercury News.

Georgetown Law professor David Cole noted on NPR, "Suppose the Justice Department announced that tomorrow it was going to embark on prosecuting only Italian tax evaders, or on the next day it said, 'We're going to make a priority of prosecuting black drug dealers.' That would be unconstitutional."

That's all true. I bet it hurts some peoples' feelings to be singled out because of their ethnicity. Of course, it would be unconstitutional to go after "black drug dealers" or "Italian tax evaders."

But that's not the issue here. The illegal immigrants in question have, in effect, already been convicted of a crime - being fugitives. The feelings of criminals are usually considered to be irrelevant, and it's only unfair to these Arab criminals in the sense that getting caught always seems unfair to the criminal who is.

And while it would be unconstitutional to target "blacks" or "Italians," it would not be unconstitutional to target, say, inner city drug gangs or the Mafia, even though they're disproportionately black or Italian, respectively. Unfortunately, most criminal outfits don't have good diversity programs.

"War," wrote Ambrose Bierce, "is G-d's way of teaching Americans geography." The government has decided to use what it's learned in the war on terrorism about geography and concentrate on people from countries where al-Qaida operates because - silly them - they think that makes more sense than going after people from countries where they don't.

The only reason it seems the Justice Department is profiling racially is because they are profiling geographically. In other words, it's just an inconvenient coincidence that illegal fugitives from Arab countries tend to be, well, Arabs. Maybe the Justice Department should work alphabetically. The Arabs would come up early enough, and everyone's feelings would be spared.

Will these deportation efforts prevent a future terrorist attack? Maybe not. Maybe only one out of these 6,000 Middle Easterners is a member of al-Qaida. Maybe none of them are. Indeed, the critics point out that most of the Sept. 11 terrorists were here legally. That's true, but they were also all from the Middle East.

Regardless, why judge each tactic in a global war on terrorism by such a huge all-or-nothing standard? Maybe this will only make the next terrorist attack slightly less likely, or slightly more difficult to pull off, or maybe a bit less deadly? It's impossible to know what might be the decisive factor in preventing something that hasn't happened yet. But you can be sure that after the next terrorist attack, such considerations will seem like quibbles.

For example, the very same day the "absconder" story broke, the Maryland State Police released a videotape, widely played on TV, showing a trooper giving a speeding ticket to Ziad Jarrah, one of pilots in the Sept. 11 hijacking. Another hijacker was also in the car.

The trooper did everything by the book and let Jarrah go. That didn't stop many journalists from grilling the state police about why they didn't detain them. "For Want of a Crystal Ball/Police Stopped Two Hijackers in Days Before Attacks" ran the headline in the Washington Post. Now, imagine the headlines if the next terrorist attack is pulled off by someone who was supposed to be deported.

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