Equal Right to Fear

In Public Outrage and Official Hunt, Some Face Special Terrors

But immigrants didn't need official comment to know. Rumors were swirling that anyone found to be without status would promptly be deported, said Nahar Alam, an organizer of South Asian women workers in New York. As the Bush administration lobbied for the power to detain indefinitely any noncitizen no matter his status, green cards seemed likely to lose the power of legitimacy so greatly coveted in immigrant communities, said lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union. Some who planned to stay in the U.S. temporarily—like Middle Easterners here on student visas—left early rather than wait for policy changes. And immigrants across the country have reconfigured their daily lives, trying to work, shop, and visit family while avoiding the hostility of passersby and apprehension by authorities.

The combination of public censure and official scrutiny has "a chilling effect" on immigrants trying to cope with hate crimes, said CAIR's executive director, Nihad Awad. "We get reports by people who are assaulted, and they are afraid to report it to authorities because of their status. We don't force them to go forward. They swallow it and internalize it. People feel they are vulnerable to bias attacks and also to those who should protect them."

Checkpoints surrounded the lower Manhattan INS detention center last week.
Photograph by Keith Bedford
Checkpoints surrounded the lower Manhattan INS detention center last week.

And, like everyone, vulnerable also to terrorism, which on September 11 knew no nationality. Immigration officials acknowledged this universality last week when they assured immigrants with missing loved ones that they would not be asked about status if they sought information. Yet when asked whether victims of other kinds of terrors, of bigotry and beatings from neighbors, could expect such consideration, the Justice Department's Nelson said, "That's a question we don't have an answer to." In death, all are equal. Living in fear, apparently, can happen in different degrees.

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