American history is riddled with incidents of institutionalized discrimination and policies that marginalized minorities. While the federal government had come to regret such episodes, the current administration is repeating some of these mistakes.
Yale Law schools students recently discovered that in 2004 the George W. Bush Administration began compiling a list of US residents suspected to be involved in terrorist activities. The list, they found, ethnically profiles individuals from Muslim majority countries. The students, who work for Yale’s human rights advocacy clinic, National Litigation Project, uncovered the information after a two year legal battle with federal agencies to view government documents as permitted under the Freedom of Information Act. After receiving access to the records students learned that the list was an “anti-terrorism measure” under the Bush administration’s Operation Front Line
A news release from the Department of Homeland Security in 2004 stated that Operation Front Line would go after immigrant status violators based on "national security criteria" and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it was operating "without regard to race, ethnicity or religion."
According to the Fairfield Weekly, a news publication based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, of the 300 cases released, 79 percent were from Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Somalia. While the investigation of immigrants was justified on national security grounds, it didn't result in a single terror-related arrest. The worst crimes in the Yale files were identity theft and credit card forgery.
A CBS News broadcast on Sept. 17, 2004, described the campaign by the ICE and FBI as "a massive counter-offensive of interrogations, surveillance and possible detentions.”
The list eerily resembles another infamous list issued by the US government. 67 years ago, Franklin D, Roosevelt’s administration issued the Custodial Detention Index (CDI), a massive list of US residents, mostly of Japanese descent. It was compiled soon after the attacks of Pearl Harbor, in order to track “suspicious” Americans. The CDI was created from secretly obtained information based on unverified data, unsolicited phone tips, and information acquired without judicial warrants like intercepted mail and wiretaps. In 1942 President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which used the CDI, to send 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps.
Operation Front Line’s list and FDR’s Custodial Detention Index both implemented single-target responses to terrorism. While the CDI went after Japanese Americans, Operation Front Line is discriminating against Muslim Americans.
The Bush administration is on its way out, but information on Operation Front Line has just been made public, and the resulting ethnic profiling still continues today. This injustice cannot be ignored and President-elect Obama’s administration must be proactive to stop it.