Male immigrants interviewed by law enforcement

Tim Sturrock

Local law enforcement officials under direction of the U.S. attorney’s Office began interviewing more than 90 male immigrants in the Twin Cities area last week, authorities said.

They are some of approximately 5,000 sought nationwide for questioning about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Tom Heffelfinger, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said the interviews are voluntary and the men are not under suspicion for terrorist activities but might have information about terrorism.

The typical interviewee, Heffelfinger said, has been in the country for 18 months to 24 months and came from a country with a history of terrorism. He said the men were not chosen based on religion or ethnicity but rather on country of origin and length of stay.

Heffelfinger said he talked with leaders from the Muslim and Arab communities to address concerns. He said he told them his office will help the men participating with their immigrant status and inform them the interviews are voluntary.

Sulieman Nader, president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said he talked to a Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department detective Monday about a possible interview with his roommate.

Nader said the detective told him his roommate met the profile of the Sept. 11 hijackers because he was male, from a certain Arab country and had a certain kind of visa. The officer also told Nader he would probably be contacted soon. Nader said he doesn’t intend to be interviewed.

“Assuming that just because I’m from a certain country that I might be involved in such an attack, it’s insulting. It’s stereotyping. It’s profiling,” he said.

Nader plans on spending the rest of the week informing other Arab students of their rights. And the
organization that helps facilitate his stay e-mailed its Arab and Muslim students an American Civil Liberties Union brochure titled “Know Your Rights.”

Barry Feld, University law professor, said the U.S. attorney’s interviews are neither racist nor unethical.

“Police can come up to anyone for any reason with any question,” he said. Interviewees don’t have to answer.

“If they can ask anything they want, why can’t they use criteria to narrow their search?” Feld said. “If we know that all of the members of the Mafia are Sicilian, should we interview Irish?”

Charles Samuelson, Minnesota Civil Liberties Union executice director, said he fears that by declining an interview, the immigrants will put themselves under more suspicion. He advises that immigrants go through with the interviews with an attorney if possible.

Samuelson said he doesn’t believe statements that innocent interviewees are in no danger, and the recent detainment of unnamed immigrants is an example of unfair treatment. But he said he hasn’t heard of any interviewees who have had their civil liberties violated.

Bill Donahue, University deputy general counsel, said law enforcement agencies haven’t contacted University administration concerning interviews with students. But he said laws preclude them from supplying anything but basic information to law enforcement, and a subpoena would be necessary to obtain anything else. He said the University doesn’t have any plans to address the issue with students.

Last week, University of Michigan officials said they will not allow the school’s police department to participate in the questioning because they said the students had not committed a crime. Officials also set up an area on campus for the interviews and offered staff members to attend with students.