Testimony of Udi Ofer on behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union before The New York City Council Committee on Immigration regarding Oversight of the Impact of Antiterrorism Initiatives on Immigrant Communities in New York City. My name is Udi Ofer. I am an attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and project director of its Bill of Rights Defense Campaign. Since 1951, the NYCLU has been the state’s leading advocate on behalf of New Yorkers civil rights and civil liberties as articulated in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. The New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign was founded following September 11, 2001 to ensure that government antiterrorism initiatives do not needlessly sacrifice civil liberties and civil rights. I thank the Immigration Committee for inviting the NYCLU to present testimony today on pertinent issues facing immigrant communities in New York City. We welcome the opportunity to offer recommendations for the new Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Guillermo Linares. The NYCLU is concerned about the impact of antiterrorism initiatives on New York City’s immigrant communities. Since September 11, 2001, federal, state, and local antiterrorism policies undertaken in the name of protecting national security have had a devastating impact on immigrant communities in New York City. New draconian immigration policies coupled with overzealous and sweeping antiterrorism initiatives have led to the questioning, detention, and deportation of thousands of immigrants involved in no criminal activity. In February of this year, I presented testimony before this committee in which I outlined the harsh impact of these antiterrorism initiatives.3 I testified on the impact of antiterrorism initiatives on the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where it is estimated that 15,000 Pakistani residents were detained, deported, or voluntarily fled due to antiterrorism initiatives. In my testimony before this committee, I requested that the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and the Immigration Committee of the City Council investigate the impact of antiterrorism initiatives on New York City’s immigrants. However, there has been little done, as far as we know, to lift the veil of secrecy that obscures the nature of these initiatives and their impact on New Yorkers. I present testimony today to request that the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and the City Council Immigration Committee take an active role in this investigation. First, I ask that the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and the Immigration Committee investigate the latest round of questioning by law enforcement of members of the Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities in New York City. In recent weeks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated the “Fall Threat Task Force”--also known as the “October Plan”--to surveil and question Arab, Muslim and South Asian men living in the United States. It has been reported that the FBI initiated the questioning to prevent a terrorist attack from taking place during and leading up to Election Day on November 2. The government has released little information on the scope of the questioning since its announcement of this initiative. Reports indicate that the “October Plan” is similar to past initiatives that involved the questioning of individuals based upon ethnic and religious profiling, without suspicion of criminal activity. Since September 11, 2001, there have been four rounds of questioning of Arab, Muslim and South Asian men living in the United States. In past rounds, thousands of individuals were interrogated about their religious practices and political beliefs. These interrogations raise concerns over constitutional protections of due process, freedom of speech and association, and the right to exercise one’s religion. The Immigrant Affairs Commissioner and the City Council Immigration Committee have a responsibility to investigate the scope and impact of the latest round of questioning in New York City. We would recommend, for example, that both the Commissioner and the Immigration Committee contact the FBI field office to inquire about the nature and scope of the latest round of questioning. The NYCLU sent a letter to the FBI New York Field Office seeking answers to the following questions:
  • How many people in New York City does the FBI intend to question/interview?
  • How will individuals be identified for questioning?
  • What questions will be asked? Will interviewees be questioned about their religious or political beliefs and activities?
  • Who will conduct the questioning? Will government agencies other than the FBI participate? If so, which agencies? Does the NYPD participate in the questioning?
  • Will individuals contacted be informed of the voluntary nature of their participation in these FBI interviews? Will individuals contacted be informed of their legal rights, including their right to have an attorney present during the interviews?
  • Which government agencies or other entities or individuals will have access to information obtained from these interviews?
  • In what manner and for what purposes will the information obtained from these interviews be stored and made accessible?
The FBI has not responded to the NYCLU’s request for this basic information. It is vital for the welfare of New York City’s immigrant communities that the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and the City Council Committee on Immigration investigate the scope and impact of the latest round of questioning. Second, we urge both the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and the Immigration Committee to advocate against anti-immigrant legislation pending in Congress that will negatively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of New York City residents. In particular, the Commissioner and Committee must use New York City’s influence to oppose passage of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act, H.R. 10. The House of Representatives passed the bill on October 8, and it is now before conference committee. HR 10 is being pushed through the Congress as a legislative response to the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission; however it includes extreme anti-immigrant provisions unrelated to the 9/11 Commission report. If passed into law, H.R. 10 would harm the lives of hundreds of thousands of New York City residents. The bill authorizes the
  • Deportation without a hearing of non-citizens who have lived in New York City for years, as long as an immigration officer states that the non-citizen was not lawfully admitted and has been physically present in the U.S. for less than 5 years (Section 3007). The deportation would occur without a hearing and without judicial review;
  • Suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, severely limiting the power of the courts to review detention and deportation (Section 3010);
  • Deportation of non-citizens to nations where they will face a grave risk of torture (Section 3032);
  • Deportation of non-citizens to countries without a functioning government (Section 3033);
  • Creation of a national ID card that would prevent thousands of New Yorkers from obtaining a driver’s license (Sections 3051-3056);
  • Secret surveillance on non-citizens not connected to a terrorist group (Section 2001)
City officials have a responsibility to oppose federal legislation that would negatively impact its residents from passing through Congress. The Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and the City Council’s Immigration Committee can and should play an active role in educating federal lawmakers that represent New York City about the negative impact HR 10 would have on the lives of thousands of City residents.