Mr. LEVIN (for himself and Mr. Simon) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Whereas reports of harassment and violence against Arab Americans increased after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, and increased again after the war began on January 17, 1991;
Whereas, on September 24, 1990, President Bush declared that death threats, physicals attacks, vandalism, religious violence and discrimination against Arab Americans must end and that a crisis abroad is no excuse for discrimination at home;
Whereas the Federal Bureau of Investigation has reportedly interviewed more than 200 Arab Americans regarding possible terrorist threats in the United States and abroad, and continues to interview other Arab Americans;
Whereas the selection of individuals to be questioned based solely on their ethnicity or national origin unfairly arouses suspicion of Arab Americans, reinforces offensive stereotypes, and encourages hate crimes and other discrimination against Arab Americans;
Whereas the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reported to have questioned some Arab Americans about their lawfully protected political beliefs, activities, and affiliations;
Whereas the Constitution of the United States protects the right to freedom of speech, political expression and association;
Whereas the Constitution and laws of the United States prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, and national origin; and
Whereas the Federal Bureau of Investigation is responsible for protecting civil rights and civil liberties: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that--
(1) the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans, including Arab Americans, should be protected at all times, and particularly during times of international conflict of war;
(2) the Federal Bureau of Investigation should work with other Federal, State, and local government agencies and community leaders to prevent, investigate and report hate crimes and other discrimination against Arab Americans and other minorities; and
(3) Federal agencies should avoid activities that--
(A) threaten or encroach upon the civil rights and civil liberties of citizens or legal residents of the United States; or
(B) reinforce ethnic stereotypes.
Reports of incidents of discrimination and violence against Arab-Americans rose significantly after the invasion of Kuwait last August and again after the war began on January 17. In my home State of Michigan which has the largest community of Arab-Americans in North America, there has been an increase in threats, harassment and attacks against Arab-Americans and their property since the war began.
Arab-Americans have looked to the Government to defend and protect them and to condemn these crimes. I've received letters from constituents asking that the Congress make clear that Americans' patriotism should not be questioned because of their ethnicity, religion, national origin, or their position on a particular government policy. One such letter asked that we `help us put an end to the intimidation and harassment. Speak up on our behalf. * * * Tell the American people that we stand firm behind our country.'
Instead of an unambiguous condemnation of acts against them, the Arab-American community has gotten a mixed message. The President has stated that these acts must stop and that a crisis abroad is no excuse for discrimination at home. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] has interviewed at least 200 Arab-Americans about possible terrorist threats in the United States and abroad. Although the FBI has said that the individuals interviewed are not targets of an investigation, and that its intention was not to intimidate or harass the individuals, many have interpreted it that way.
While the Government ought to take appropriate steps to protect against terrorist attacks, it should not and need not do so at the expense of the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. In fact, I believe the Government has heightened obligation during times of war and increased threats of terrorism to condemn related attacks against innocent Americans and defend their rights and freedoms.
The resolution we're introducing today expresses the sense of the Congress that civil rights and civil liberties should be protected during the war and that Federal agencies should avoid activities that threaten or encroach civil rights or civil liberties and should instead help prevent, investigate, and report hate crimes and other discrimination against Arab-Americans and other minorities.
The National Association of Arab Americans, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the American Jewish Committee have endorsed this resolution.
I urge my colleagues to support this resolution so that we send a strong message that the rights of all Americans, including those of Arab descent, must be protected.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of a recent Washington Post editorial be inserted in the Record.
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:
The Gulf crisis has raised the threat of terrorism--instigated by Saddam Hussein and directed against American targets both abroad and in this country. Hence, the increased security at federal buildigns and airports, and the decision of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to photograph and fingerprint visitors holding Iraqi and Kuwaiti passports. These have been telling signs of a nation assuming a wartime footing. Given the pronouncements out of Baghdad, these countermeasures are inconvenient but necessary security precautions against possible terrorist attacks.
Yet it is exactly at times such as these that government must take care not to circumscribe the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Regrettably, that may have happened last week during the course of a special Federal Bureau of Investigation program focused on Arab Americans.
FBI agents contacted more than 200 Arab-American business and community leaders across the country, ostensibly to inform them of the bureau's intention to protect them against any backlash from the Persian Gulf crisis. Investigating and prosecuting hate crimes and ethnically motivated violence spawned by Middle East turbulence is a legitimate job of federal law enforcement officials, so that aspect of the bureau's initiative was welcomed by Arab Americans. But FBI agents also used the occasion to gather intelligence about possible terrorist threats. This is where the FBI quickly wore out its welcome.
Organizations representing Arab Americans contend that agents asked citizens about their political beliefs, their attitudes toward the Persian Gulf crisis, Saddam Hussein and their knowledge or suspicions about possible terrorism. Deputy Attorney Genral William P. Barr denies any FBI intention to intimidate Arab Americans, as some community leaders fear. `At the same time,' he says, `in the light of the terrorist threats . . . it is only prudent to solicit information about potential terrorist activity and to request the future assistance of these individuals.'
But why does the government presume that Americans of Arab descent should know about `potential terrorist activity' or that this group of Americans is any more knowledgeable about such activity than any other? FBI spokesman Thomas F. Jones says it's because the bureau is aware of a number of terrorist organizations in the United States that `consist of people of Middle East descent' and that the `possibility exists that [terrorist] are living in Arab-American communities.' In that way, he said, Arab Americans `could come into possession of information on potential terrorist acts.'
It is a perilously flimsy rationale. It leaves the U.S. government wide open to the accusation that is dividing Americans by ethnic background and singling out one group as a suspect class. If that were true, the government's conduct would clearly be constitutionally offensive and morally repugnant. To imply that Arab Americans--some of whom are members of families that have been in this country since the turn of the century--may have a special link to terrorist is both insidious and harmful. The government cannot go around making judgments and presumptions about citizens on the basis of their descent.
Like all Americans, Arab Americans have the right to be accepted and treated as individuals, and the government has a constitutional duty to observe and protect that right. Neither should the government invade the privacy or trample the dignity of one class of citizens. What is being seen now recalls the negative stereotyping that served as a basis for the shameful treatment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Such stereotyping, with all its ugly and unfair implications, should not be allowed to take hold.