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Terror on the Inner Border | The Nation

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Terror on the Inner Border

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Luckily for Habeeb, a local watchdog organization monitoring the ICE facility found out about his case, and several days later, with the help of immigration attorneys at the Seattle firm of MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless, Habeeb was released. More than a month after that, on May 16, the deportation case was dismissed. In the interim, however, Habeeb lost his new job; and, he says, he became a pariah, with acquaintances reluctant to associate with someone the government apparently believed to be a possible terrorist.

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Sasha Abramsky
Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s...

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This past March 17, ACLU attorneys working on behalf of Habeeb announced that they were suing two Border Patrol agents in Montana for unspecified damages. A related federal tort claim filed against the Border Patrol agency itself, as well as ICE, seeks $600,000 in compensation for Habeeb's being wrongly arrested, incarcerated and threatened with deportation.

Whether the Havre sector agents are questioning everyone at the station, profiling people who simply look "different," as Habeeb's and Jo Jo's cases suggest, or are working from Amtrak passenger manifests--many immigration attorneys believe that after the Patriot Act was passed, Border Patrol agents began accessing these manifests--is unclear, because neither Border Patrol officials nor Amtrak would comment on the matter. What is clear, however, is that the expansion of Havre's Border Patrol office has resulted in a significant rise in the numbers of illegal aliens being arrested in town, held in the Hill County Detention Center and then entered into ICE's labyrinthine, often Kafkaesque, detention system. "There's more individuals arrested by the Border Patrol, more inmates for the detention facility," acknowledges Sheriff Greg Szudera, who runs the county jail. The jail's daily logs bear witness to this steady flow of "illegals." In the four months from October 1, 2004, through January 31, 2005, fifty-five Border Patrol detainees were booked into the detention center.

During these months the majority of those arrested were Latino; names like Castellanos, Vicente, Rodriguez and Garcia dot this roster. There were also Indian, Bangladeshi, Irish and Italian names and, among them, a handful of Arabic ones: an Ahmed in December, a Mohamed in January. Were any of these detainees security threats? That was something the Border Patrol wasn't prepared to comment on. David Bernard, the assistant chief of the Havre sector office, working out of a headquarters building on a hill next to the town's ice dome, was happy to tell me about his move from Laredo, Texas, to Havre; but he wouldn't tell me how many arrests his agents had made, what criteria they used in determining whom to ask for ID and paperwork or what legal justifications they relied on for stopping people at random inside the train station and questioning them about their citizenship status.

If the Empire Builder's riders answer that they are not US citizens, the federal agents, working under Department of Homeland Security mandates, demand proof that they are in the country legally. Most of those they interrogate are too intimidated to ask by what right they are being questioned. Were they to do so, the agents could recite to them a list of Supreme Court rulings dealing with cases from the Southwest that have, in recent years, expanded the right of law-enforcement officers to demand that people produce ID upon being stopped, and have limited the "probable cause" requirements for searching and interrogating a person within a certain number of miles of an international border.

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