Since mid-January, around two hundred and fifty New Yorkers have been convening every Saturday afternoon at Twenty-ninth Street and Third Avenue in Brooklyn, along a nearly deserted industrial thoroughfare beneath the Gowanus Expressway. About one hundred yards west of the highway, and near the edge of New York Harbor, sits the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison. According to Amnesty International, between twenty and forty illegal immigrants are being held at the facility on visa violations. The protestors who gather in front of the prison each weekend are demanding the detainees be released. They claim conditions within the detention center violate international law, and that a disproportionate number of Arabs and Muslims are being held.
After September 11, heightened concerns over terrorism led the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to crack down on illegal immigrants throughout the country, keeping many visa violators in prisons as the FBI investigated their backgrounds. Amnesty issued a 46-page report in March, charging the INS with selectively enforcing the law, detaining people without charging them, and refusing to reveal the identities of those being held.
Carolyn Isenberg attends the protests almost every Saturday. A history professor at Hofstra University, she belongs to Brooklyn Parents for Peace, an activist organization started by a group of parents whose children attended the same nursery school. Isenberg lives with her husband and youngest daughter in Cobble Hill, an area of the city with a large Arab population. She worries about the safety of her neighbors, and feels outraged that people are being denied their civil liberties "right here in Brooklyn."
Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, couldn't disagree more. The protestors who show up in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoons are "probably motivated by good intentions," she told NEW YORK VOICES, but they don't understand the situation. Contrary to what Amnesty has claimed, Mac Donald asserts that the INS has been acting within its legal authority, and considering the likelihood of further terrorist activity, she believes they have an obligation to do so. She believes the human rights organization distorted facts in its report, that the detainees have been given due process, and that the government must be allowed the necessary leeway to conduct its investigations. In response to the charge of ethnic profiling, Mac Donald argues that not targeting Arabs and Muslims would be ludicrous since Al Queda defines itself "by its religious and regional identity."
To learn more about this issue, read a complete transcript of John DeNatale's interview with Heather Mac Donald. Or read a copy of Rafael Pi Roman's discussion with William Schulz, the director of Amnesty International USA.
Read Amnesty International's report on the post-September 11 detentions, or visit the organization's website for more information.
You can also read articles by Heather Mac Donald in the CITY JOURNAL criticizing the Amnesty report, and further explaining her position on the detainees.