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20 years on, Muslims remember the questionable detentions that followed 9/11

After 9/11, Muslims faced illegal detentions due to false allegations of connections with terrorist organizations.

20 years on, Muslims remember the questionable detentions that followed 9/11
Image Source: Buffalo al-Qaeda Suspects To Appear For Bail Hearing. BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 19. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the wake of the war against terror following 9/11, innocent Muslim folks in New York City faced the worst of questionable and in many cases unconstitutional detentions by police and other government officials. Entire communities were torn apart as a result. 20 years on, as America completes its evacuation from Afghanistan, Muslims recall the violent detentions that separated them from their families and changed the trajectories of their lives forever. More than 1,000 South Asian and Arab men were arrested in sweeps across the metropolitan area and, in fact, nationwide, the Associated Press reports. These are some of their experiences.


The immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) anticipated a rise in hate crimes and harassment in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, they launched a hotline and placed flyers promoting it in primarily South Asian neighborhoods. However, they did not expect to receive calls from worried mothers and wives about forced detentions. DRUM executive director Fahd Ahmed shared with AP, "We started getting calls from women saying, ‘Last night, law enforcement busted into our apartment and took my husband and my brother.’ Children calling us and saying, ‘My father left for work four days ago and he hasn’t come home, and we haven’t heard anything.'"


"There were people who were just disappearing from our communities," he continued. "And nobody knew what was happening to them or where they were going." As per a 9/11 Commission report, they were detained as persons of "special interest." Their identities were kept secret; their immigration hearings were closed, communication with them was limited, and bonds were denied until those detained could prove they did not have connections with terrorist groups. A "hold until cleared" policy within the Justice Department meant a majority of detainees spent months in detention despite immigration officials questioning the legality of the prolonged detentions, a review conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General revealed. In addition to this, those detained faced "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse." According to the report, conditions were "unduly harsh."


Detainees were essentially captured in numerous different ways. For instance, three detainees were stopped on a traffic violation and found with school drafting plans. Although their boss explained they were working on a construction project and were supposed to have them, authorities arrested and detained them anyway. Another was detained when he was thought to be "too anxious" to purchase a vehicle. While several of those detained had entered the United States illegally or had overstayed their visit, the report affirmed that "it was unlikely that most if not all" would have been pursued if not for the attack investigation.


Rachel Meeropol, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a lawsuit in the year 2002 on behalf of several of the detainees. To this day, she continues to fight for additional plaintiffs. She said, "[This] blunderbuss approach [was] pure racism and xenophobia in operation... It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that it didn’t work. Of course, what it did do was destroy whole communities and not to mention the lives of all the individuals rounded up." Now, two decades since the detentions first occurred, no one has been held responsible for the illegal detentions or for how detainees were treated. Therefore, Gary Fields and Noreen Nasir writing for AP ask, "For the families marking an ignominious anniversary, the question is basic and broad: What is different?"


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