DETROIT (AP) Though initial interviews in the terrorism investigation have gone well, some Arab-American leaders say they”re still wary of federal authorities” plans to interview hundreds of area men. High among the concerns is what happens to those men who”ve overstayed their visas or who have some other immigration violation. So far, there have been mixed messages from attorneys, local leaders and authorities.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the non-confrontational nature of the interviews. It was not as searing as I had anticipated,” said Noel Saleh, a Detroit immigration attorney. “It doesn”t mean I”ve changed my position on the interviews.”
Saleh said the three men who were interviewed in his office Monday were asked their immigration status. His clients were students with current visas.
“I would be heartened to hear that any information as to minor immigration violations or any immigration violation would not be reported as an inducement for people to be forthcoming,” Saleh said. “But that”s certainly not my understanding.”
But John Bell, special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI office, said yesterday that interviewers aren”t asking about the men”s immigration status. That would be “detrimental” to the effort, Bell said.
Bell said, however, that if an immigration violation comes out during the interview, law enforcement officials have to take appropriate action.
Saleh argued that it”s inevitable a person would reveal their status because they are asked to prove their identity at the interview”s start.
More than 600 men in Michigan have been identified as part of the Justice Department”s nationwide effort to contact more than 5,000 visitors and determine if they have been recruited by Osama bin Laden”s terrorist organization, al-Qaida.
Michigan is home to about 350,000 Arab-Americans, most in the southeastern part of the state, where letters were sent to more than 560 men.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Cares said as of early yesterday, about 185 men had responded to letters, a half-dozen had been interviewed, and one had declined the request. Cares said if someone declines an interview, that is the end of the process.
As of yesterday evening, a total of 200 men had responded.
Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said none of the men in interviews he attended Monday were asked their immigration status.