Tuesday, February 11, 2003

This is over ten days old now, but I think this is a good time to blog it now anyway. Pakistani Exodus To Canada Brings Waits, Crowding.

Most of these people seem to be worried about being deported, but nobody knows exactly how many have encountered worse, or under what circumstances. The worst case is a non citizen in the country illegally when the FBI or some other agency thinks or hopes you have some information related to terrorism in some way. Of course I'm not suggesting we should give the rights of citizens to people who are in the country illegally. My concern is public policy.

Suppose, oddly enough, a Pakistani illegal alien actually thinks he has evidence about a terrorist. Suppose he even wants to talk to the FBI about it, possibly because the terrorist is a member of a Muslim sect that would kill him if they were both back in Pakistan. From his perspective there is one little problem. What if the FBI suspects he is misleading them as part of a conspiracy, or even that he is sincere but might be of use later? He can be detained indefinitely for any reason. Like this.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001, signed by President Bush on October 26, gives broad, unprecedented powers to the U.S. Attorney General to certify and then detain non-citizens suspected of terrorist activities or of threatening national security. The law contains vague definitions of "terrorism" and other key terms, and fails to provide meaningful judicial review for detainees wishing to challenge their certifications and subsequent detention. The new law also includes provisions that may lead to the indefinite detention of non-citizens.

OK, so we don't want them to have lawyers. I just wish there were some independent authority, maybe even only involving people with security clearance, which could review the cases and make sure nobody got lost in the shuffle. If there is more than one person who makes detention decisions, do they have different standards? Suppose someone gets tortured (we would never do that, suppose he finds an interrogation more traumatic than expected) and someone starts wondering what the public reaction in the United States would be if he told his story. Now suppose further evidence proves conclusively they are innocent. Is it going to be hard to let them go? I mean, as a taxpayer I don't want to pay room and board for someone who poses no danger.

I'm not mainly concerned about rights for illegal aliens here, but it would be nice if there were some credible authority figure who could promise freedom (for non terrorists only afraid to speak out) in return for cooperation with the government and be believed.

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