Ten students and two University employees have chosen to participate in the U.S. Department Justice interviews as part of the FBI”s terrorism investigation, said Nick Roumel, senior attorney for Student Legal Services.
Nine of the students and both employees already interviewed, and the remaining student is scheduled to meet with officials later this week, Roumel said.
The U.S. attorney”s office for the eastern district of Michigan said Friday that more than 200 of 566 men of Middle Eastern descent from southeastern Michigan responded to a letter from the FBI requesting their participation in an interview about terrorism. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins plans to release a statement about information obtained at those interviews this morning.
Yesterday was the deadline for responding to the letters, and officials did not extend the deadline, as they did last week to allow more people to set up interviews and seek counsel.
Roumel assisted with 11 interviews last week and said the response has been positive from the student participants as well as the FBI.
“Students have indicated that they felt relieved. They”re glad they went through it, glad to be done with it,” Roumel said. “The FBI agents to their credit they”ve done everything they can to put students at ease.”
David Cahill, an attorney cooperating with the American Civil Liberties Union”s Washtenaw County branch, said the officials have conducted brief, non-hostile interview sessions.
“They”ve cut down the list of questions they ask,” Cahill said. “The process is going well, although the process itself is a problem.”
Ann Arbor Police Chief Daniel Oates said officers from his department have participated in five interviews. Ann Arbor community members last Monday requested police participation in the interviews.
The office of the U.S. Deputy Attorney General issued a memorandum to anti-terrorism task force members last month detailing question guidelines for the interviews. According to the memo, officials should request to see the passport and visa of the individual, obtain all telephone numbers used by the individual and inquire the identities about the people living with the individual.
“There are some parts of questions we”re not answering,” Cahill said. “Like phone numbers of friends and family that”s the big one.”
The memo also states that if the individual is on a student visa, the official should learn about his studies and future plans.
Cahill said although the FBI said it will ignore minor immigration law violations, questions must be handled carefully because the immigration law details are complicated.
The memo states that if an individual is in violation of federal immigration laws, the Immigration and Naturalization Service should be contacted.
Although the purpose of the interview is not to evaluate the legality of a person”s immigration status, the memo states that federal responsibility to enforce immigration laws is important.
“I would say that people should definitely have a lawyer through the ACLU or student legal services,” Cahill said.
Letters were sent to men of Middle Eastern descent between the ages of 18 and 33 who entered the United States on student, business or tourist visas since January 2000.
“How do you put a deadline on a voluntary request?” asked Wendy Wagenheim, communications director for the ACLU of Michigan.
Wagenheim said the ACLU”s Detroit office has handled several dozens of letter recipients and has trained 30 attorneys in the interview process.
“Our primary concern is for them to take an attorney with them to the interview and know their rights,” she said.
Along with other ACLU attorneys, Cahill is providing free legal service to individuals who have received letters.
The ACLU was criticized last week by some community members for providing free service, representing foreigners and informing them of their rights.
Officials hope to complete the interviews before Dec. 21.
For more information about the interview process, letter recipients can call (734) 652-0345 to set up an appointment with Arab and Muslim leaders, lawyers or translators. The ACLU has a hotline at (734) 769-0753 or (313) 578-6806.
Students, faculty and staff can contact Student Legal Services at 763-9920.