Saturday, August 25, 2007

Right when they did it, right when they apologized

The U.S. has apologized to an Iraqi man who was detained in Havre when he got off to stretch his legs during an Amtrak stop.

As he wandered around the station and platform, he was confronted by Border Patrol agents who asked where he was from and demanded to see his documentation.

Habeeb provided it, but when they asked him if he had undergone "special registration" - a post-Sept. 11, 2001, requirement that noncitizen males from about two dozen countries be fingerprinted and photographed - he told them he didn't know he had to.

In fact, he didn't have to. Political refugees were exempted from "special registration."

The agents took him into custody. He was kept at the Hill County jail for three nights, during which time he was subjected to a strip search and interrogated about whether he knew anyone who didn't like the U.S. He was then transferred to immigration detention in Seattle for four nights...

Rough events -- something no-one would want to undergo, and that no-one should want someone else to have to endure.

The article doesn't say whether officials had any way of determining with certainty that he was a political refugee and thus didn't have to undergo special registration. Nor does it say whether the amount of time it took to make that determination and release him was reasonable.

The fact that he won a cash settlement may or may not indicate that officials should have been able to straighten things out more quickly.

But it is certainly important that we err on the side of caution -- had he been someone on his way to perform an act of terrorism and who had intentionally not undergone special registration, then the officials who detained him would have been heroes.

The article ends with this from one of his attorneys:

"Mr. Habeeb came from a country where he never knew if the government was going to follow the rules," said one of his attorneys, Aaron Caplan. "He came to America to get away from that."

Unspoken is the accusation that American officials didn't follow the rules. Obviously, the American system did work. Mr Habeeb was released when it was determined that he was not required to register and posed no threat. He had the privilege of using the American legal system not only to prove this, but also to use it to obtain a cash settlement for damages and he obtained an apology from the U.S. government.

Surely Aaron Caplan isn't suggesting that Mr. Habeeb got the same treatment in America that he would have received in Iraq under Sadaam Hussein?

1 comment:

Nell said...

And yet, somehow, that is exactly what he is suggesting.

No system is perfect and I'm sure this inconvenience was frustrating for Habeeb, but those like Caplan seem to forget that there truly are threats out there that would have greater consequences than a week long inconvenience.

I agree, the U.S. officials were right - on both accounts.