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Women’s Division letter takes up rights for detainees

 


Women’s Division letter takes up rights for detainees

June 16, 2005        

A UMNS Report
By Kelly Martini*

United Methodists will have opportunities this summer to take up the cause of South Asians, Muslims and Arabs who are detained or being deported from the United States without consideration of their basic human rights.

A plea to become the voice of these voiceless persons is being made by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries to more 20,000 women, clergy and lay people taking part in the denomination’s Schools of Christian Mission. It comes in a letter linked to a study on India and Pakistan.
 
The India-Pakistan study focuses in part on how globalization, interfaith relations and the war on terror affect these countries. A related concern is how Pakistanis and South Asians are being treated within the U.S. borders.

The division’s letter asks United Methodists to approach the media on behalf of the detainees’ rights and their human dignity.

“Since Sept. 11 (2001), the fear of terrorist attacks has been used to justify a series of laws and regulations that have restricted immigrant rights, legitimized racial profiling by law enforcement agents, and led to the detention of thousands of South Asian, Muslim and Arab boys and men in the U.S., and the deportation of hundreds,” the letter states.

“As United Methodist Women study India and Pakistan in schools of mission this year, we can also become aware of how fear and new legislation are affecting South Asian and other Muslim communities in the U.S. and take action.”

According to a May 24 New York Times article, a program known as “Special Registration” during 2002 and 2003 required boys and men in the United States from more than 20 Muslim-majority countries to “voluntarily” report for registration. They were fingerprinted, photographed and questioned, with the goal of hunting for terrorists. 

An estimated 83,000 men came forward, though only a handful has been charged with terrorism-related offenses. However, 13,000 of those who voluntarily registered were placed into deportation proceedings because of irregularities in their immigration status that would have required simple legal corrections before Sept. 11. While Special Registration has ended, some registrants are still in detention under threat of deportation.
 
On May 24, the Coney Island Project, an advocacy group in Brooklyn, N.Y., reported that the U.S. government deported 57 Pakistanis from a Louisiana detention center, including three women and four children, without allowing them to notify family members still living in the United States. On arrival in Pakistan, they were handed over to Pakistani immigration authorities before being released. 

The Women’s Division letter states that Pakistani immigrants who are deported are often in a precarious position. It cites a Human Rights Watch report that states, in one instance, “Pakistani authorities detained two U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin and brutally tortured them for nine months while the U.S. ‘turned a blind eye in the hopes of gaining information in the war on terror.’”

Since 2002, thousands have been sent back to Pakistan, many on minor immigration irregularities, with no accusation of a crime, according to a Human Rights Watch report in May. 

New laws since Sept. 11, 2001, increase government power to detain terrorism suspects without charge and broaden the powers of search, surveillance and indefinite detention for those awaiting a deportation decision. Racial profiling of Arab, Muslim and South Asian men has been legitimized through national registrations and local police practices, according to the Women’s Division letter.
 
The mass deportations, violation of civil rights and racial profiling have been a concern of the United Methodist Church. The 2004 General Conference, the legislative body of the denomination, approved a resolution on “Immigrants and Refugees: To Love the Sojourner.” The resolution calls upon United Methodists to ensure that immigrant rights and dignity are upheld as the government develops policies to combat terrorism.
 
For more information on the action letter or sample letters to the editor, go to http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/, the division’s Web site.

*Martini is communications director and information officer for the Women’s Division.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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