It goes without saying that I am not a big War on Terror / Fuck Our Rights Because I'm Scared of the Brown People guy. So it's somewhat surprising to find myself with mixed feelings bordering on ambivalence at the revelation that the recently concluded "Special Registration" program in Homeland Security netted 11 individuals with al-Qaeda ties out of 85,000 Muslim registrants.

Part of me understands that I am expected to decry the program as racial profiling (see the Wiki for a list of foreign nationals who were required to participate). Another part of me is supposed to mock the program's amusingly low success rate (0.01%) as an indicator of its futility. Yet despite what the right likes to use as a straw man of Libruls, I understand a number of key aspects of the complicated question of rights, the law, and non-citizen residents in the U.S.

1. Finding 11 individuals – let's assume, perhaps tenuously, that "ties to al-Qaeda" is defined in a reasonably accurate, meaningful way – is neither surprising nor insignificant. We would expect and anticipate that 99.99% (literally, in this case) of entrants from these 25 countries will have no links to any kind of terrorist activity.
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It only takes a very small number of individuals to execute a potentially serious terrorist plot.

2. Terrorism is a real threat and DHS has a legitimate mandate to prevent it, within the limits set by the law.

3. There is a reasonable suspicion that entrants from the countries identified are more likely – again, 0.01% vs. 0.0001% – to have terrorist ties.

4. Non-citizens can legally be subjected to reasonable requirements like registering their presence in the country. The NYT reports that the program identified "more than 10,000" individuals who were not in the country legally – either visa overstays or undocumented entrants. I have no problem with the government enforcing existing laws requiring people to have valid visas to reside here. It shocks me that anyone would.

5. Non-citizens are not treated equally in terms of the requirements placed upon them. We can argue the right or wrong of this, but that is a separate argument. The legal reality is that neither the U.S. nor any other nation on Earth treats all non-citizens and entrants identically irrespective of country of origin. This does not imply that the U.S. can do anything it chooses to immigrants or entrants, but only that it is not legally required to subject everyone to the exact same standards in issuing visas or requiring registration.

6. Any sovereign country has a vested interest in keeping accurate records of who is coming in and out of the country.

7. We do a shit job of #6, and it's not productive to have a hissy fit every time the federal government tries to place additional requirements (you know, like not overstaying visas by 15 years) on non-citizen residents or visitors. They have rights. But the government also has legitimate interests.

There. I guess I'm a closet neocon after all.
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20 thoughts on “THE NET”

  • That's it. Now turn in your ACLU card and your 55-gallon drum of patchouli oil. You are a hippie no longer.

    There's a ceremony and everything. It's like the opening credits to "Branded," but no one can stand in a decent line, and instead of a sword, we break your rain stick.

  • That all seems reasonable, outside the context of the "debate."

    Like the sort of reasoning that gets orphaned when conservatives repeatedly use a particular issue as a racist dog whistle.

  • @Jude:
    Actually, we send six "wilding" negroes to break it and, before you go, you're required to write a three-page essay on why they were right to do it.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    No, you're not a closet neocon.
    You're what might be termed a realist.
    And I don't think anyone on the left is for "Come one, come all, come as you are, no questions asked' border policies, or for handing out "stay as long as you want – do as you please' visa's.
    Non-citizens coming into, staying, and leaving our country have their rights. The right to not be scrutinized as you come into the country, or reasonable questions about what you are doing, or what you did, and is/was it in line with your visa while you're here, is not one of them.

    I'm also sure that in some parts of our country, it'd be easy to find more than 11 individuals out of 85,000 who are parts of white supremacy groups, or the KKK, or, for that matter, the Crips, the Bloods, or Hispanic gangs, or Chinese ones, or some other group of individuals we, as a society, don't approve of due to ties to violence/anarchy.
    And some of those groups, say the white supremacy one, have already done something, or are planning something not too much different from what McVeight or al-Qaeda already did.

    If you target one particular group, you will probably find people with those tendencies. That is where the rights of the individual and the groups come in. Particularly if they are citizens.
    What used to seperate us from other nations was in how we investigated and handled those individuals, groups and situations. It was done through long accepted legal means.
    And THAT's what has changed in the past 10 years. I could go on, but I think a lot of you are in tune with what's happened to our rights in the last 30+ years with the 'war on drugs,' and the last 10 in the 'war on terror.' America was never an angel, but we used to try, and were better than most, if not everyone else.
    And I think we've lost a lot o fthat and we'll never regain it.

    Them's my $0.02, for what it's worth.

  • 11 guys with terrorists ties registered with this program? Are you kidding!!?? To call these guys morons would be a insult to morons. I am sure that they terrorist ties were a brother in law or a distant cousin. Sure someone could figure that they could hide in plain sight but I would bet cash money that none of the 11 had anything signifincant going on.

    Getting a terrorist to walk into an INS office would be almost like getting Sarah Palin to walk into a library.

  • I have to agree with Sluggo, and per Ed, "let's assume, perhaps tenuously, that "ties to al-Qaeda" is defined in a reasonably accurate, meaningful way." Aye, there's the rub. It's like if someone commits a crime with a few pot seeds in his pocket, it's a "drug-related crime."

  • Am I the only one who fears the WASP terrorists? McVeigh, that guy in Texas who flew into an IRS building, Kazinski, etc. Or the guys that have "gone postal." A hand full of Supremist groups…

  • A special registration program would be a lot more palatable if noncitizens were accorded due process. In its absence, every interaction between a noncitizen and an immigration official (and these days, local police under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) represents the potential for unredressable abuse. I work, pay taxes, and do community service in this country, but every time I need to extend my visa, I run the risk of arbitrary, unappealable denial. Special registration multiplies the potential for abuse manifold, and directs it at an already vulnerable population. And for what? Identifying a potentially troubling affiliation for a percentage so small it makes statistical error seem huge by comparison.

  • The Moar You Know says:

    Finding 11 of the stupidest people on Earth (you registered with the US Government as an agent of Al-Qaeda? Really?) and getting them out of the country is not a bad thing no matter how you slice it.

    Now, that being said, I think that framing immigration control as a "tool against terror" is counterproductive to say the least. It enables demagogues to depict immigration control as racist (and when used as a tool against certain immigrant ethnic groups to fight crimes that American citizens commit just as well, it kind of is) when it should merely be another aspect of law enforcement, no different than being pulled over for speeding on the highway.

    All of this debate, of course, obscures what the real problem is: America is at, if not over, carrying capacity. We can feed the people we've got. That's about the only good news. If nothing changes, we've barely got enough water for them. Sadly, that is likely to change and not for the better. We have to import about 40% of our energy needs; this is a real problem. Landfill space is a real problem already and going to get worse. Bottom line: we've got enough people, they're wrecking what's left of our environment, and we should shut off the inflow entirely.

    But this, unfortunately, is not a discussion that America is ready to have yet. Sadly, by the time we are ready to have it, it will be too late.

  • Blakenator says:

    I agree with your idea that there are legitimate security concerns. My problem with the whole concept of what is going on here in the good ol' USofA is based on a cost-benefit analysis. I remain convinced we could get the same results at a significantly lower cost. Look closely at most of the post 9-11 "terror plots" and you will find an FBI informant as the driving force. Of course, there have to be plots being foiled to keep the fears, oops, make that justification ongoing. We have very high priced security theater in airports and other public transportation hubs, not to mention in some places most of us have never even heard of, brought to you by DHS honchos who have profited from their decisions. I guess I am just jealous that I am not sharing in the windfall.

  • What are the nature of the "ties"? Were any of the 11 arrested for terrorist activity or able to supply information that was of any significance in the search for genuine terrorists?

    As it stands, the 11 remain insignificant even given the legitimate concerns described in the above post. We must, therefore, conclude that this particular program does not fulfill its intended purpose.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Like Blakenator sez.

    And I'd be curious about those "Al-Queda connections," not to put too fine a point on it. Either the folks are incredibly dumb, or a lot of those "connections" would turn out to be bogus under close examination.

    Neverthelss I notice Ed has managed to make nuance and reason into an entertaining piece of writing. Whenever I try it I sound like a prissy church elder.

  • It's been said before, but I'll pile on-with the unique view of someone who knows just what kinds of things the government thinks are terrorist ties. These 11 people probably have an eighth cousin who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

    Ya gotta be careful when just trusting what the gubmint tells ya.

  • "let's assume, perhaps tenuously, that "ties to al-Qaeda" is defined in a reasonably accurate, meaningful way"

    Me too! Me too! I saw it too! DOGPILE!

  • "2. Terrorism is a real threat…"

    No, smoking is a real threat. Drinking and driving is a real threat. The loss of jobs is a real threat. The Paul Ryan plan (and by extension, the death of Medicare) is a real threat. Handguns are a real threat. All those things are 1,000 times more likely to kill you than terrorism. Terrorism affects an amazingly small amount of people in the United States and the world (unless it is US-made terrorism that we pretend is "war"), and to claim it is a "real threat" is to dispute actual facts.

  • Isn't it more likely that the 11 individuals identified have absolutely no "ties" or anything else to Al Qaeda or anything similar?

    Six degrees of separation between you and Kevin Bacon. Do you have "ties" to Kevin Bacon? If the government wants to persecute you, you sure do. I would imagine any person (including God-fearing white people) in the United States could be "tied" to Osama in six connections, at the absolute most.

  • Forgetful Man says:

    I'd have been happier if this story ran, say in 2000. Coulda used them picking up 9 or so guys then. I'm a "foreign national" living outside the US and I've got no problem jumping through some extra hoops to prove that I'm not a threat and I'm here legally. I'd expect the same back in the US.

  • Having parents that came from two of the whiter countries on the planet gives me a little insight. Part of immigration is based on already established relationships. My parents though coming from two different white countries came in on the Canadian quote. For obvious reasons Canada would have a larger quota than Australia.
    • The "economic" rational is obvious. It's better to have people come in who can hit the ground running and start contributing to the economy than someone who will require training.
    • Then there's stopping the criminal element. Do we want to allow someone in who's trying to escape a murder charge or a war criminal (extreme scenario agreed)?
    • How about the prevention of the spread of disease. Is making sure that a person has had all of their jabs or is not carrying measles too much to ask? How pissed off would you be if you had been contributing to Medicare/Medicaid and contracted HIV — we all know how finite that pool of money is and how hot a topic combining those two topics are in the US — and a refugee with AIDS was allowed in, thereby reducing the amount of money in the pot for those who were born in the US? At least that was my thought when I first heard about Haitians w HIV were being let into the US. Given the number of followers of "Dr Jenny McCarthy at the University of Google" and associated F*wittery of the anti-vaccination movement. Wouldn't ensuring that entrants are fully immunised be a wise thing?
    • Oddly no one ever thinks about one very *obvious* reason for workers to be in the country legally and it works to their advantage; freedom from the fear of being exploited. At present as an illegal they have 0-few protections. No workers comp, no minimum wage, so on and so forth. It would be very difficult to try to launch a civil action after being deported as an illegal from a foreign country. (Though could a class action suit be filed against employers who've hired illegals and they were injured on the job?) Not to mention the questionable skill level of some workers doing certain jobs. Eg. slaughter house work, does their employment jeaprodise food standards for proper slaughter practice? Or food handling. Do you want the person fixing your McBurger to have typhus or hep? A company that's not above hiring undocumented workers at below minimum wages more than likely is cutting corners in other areas as well.

    @Chris Wing: you forgot cars.

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