Editorial: Arrest and Detention of Unknown Numbers

March 17, 2003

Source: The American Prospect


On March 17, 2003 The American Prospect printed an editorial by Anthony Lewis stating that "Mitchell Palmer, President Woodrow Wilson's attorney general from 1919 to 1921, rounded up 3,000 allegedly 'subversive' aliens for deportation. Only about 300 were actually deported, but the roundup was widely deplored as crude and lawless intimidation... In the wake of September 11, current Attorney General John Ashcroft carried out the most sweeping roundup of aliens since the Palmer Raids. Between 1,100 and 2,000 people were arrested and detained. The exact number is unknown because the Department of Justice, after criticism grew, stopped announcing a running total. The last published figure, in November 2001, was 1,147. Perhaps in part because he put a lid of secrecy on the operation, Ashcroft's roundup has not aroused the kind of outrage that Palmer's did... In the atmosphere of fear after 9-11 and Ashcroft's orders to use sweeping measures against possible terrorists, INS and FBI agents inevitably made mistakes -- at a high human price. Muslims, citizens as well as aliens, were picked out for treatment that was often harsh and humiliating. But because of the pervasive secrecy, only occasionally did these episodes come to public attention."