After examining hundreds of federal documents, a team of Yale Law School students determined that “Operation Front Line” — an anti-terrorism program initiated by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — has been racially profiling individuals from majority Muslim nations.
Just two months ago, the Law School became the first institution outside of the federal government to examine the ICE documents. The Law School’s national litigation team believes the program unfairly targeted people regardless of their immigrant status. Members of the team also said they were worried that a similar program — one that would continue to unfairly probe people from Muslim nations — could be in operation in preparation for Tuesday’s election.
In 2004, the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency began “Operation Front Line,” a program that was largely veiled in secrecy. Before the Law School filed suit acquire ICE’s records, no one knew anything about the project’s actions, Anya Bernstein LAW ’10 said.
After the litigation team members examined the data, which was released in September, they realized why it had been kept secret, Bernstein said.
“Though Operation Front Line claimed to target terrorist suspects, it was actually targeting people from Muslim majority nations,” Bernstein said. “In other words, it was ethnic profiling.”
According to one of ICE’s documents, Operation Front Line was meant to target only individuals who had violated their status as immigrants.
But in looking at a random sampling of hundreds of cases, it became clear that there were no crimes or immigration violations shared by those targeted, Bernstein explained. In fact, 250 of the 300 random sample cases given to the Law School cited no immigration-related violations. The only feature the targeted group shared was that 79 percent of those targeted were from mostly Muslim nations, she said.
In a Thursday New York Times article, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha refused to comment on the law school’s assessment due to “ongoing litigation.”
According to one ICE memo, the purpose of Operation Front Line was to disrupt terrorist activities that might have interfered with the 2004 presidential election. Bernstein said she worries the program might still be active for this year’s election.
Programs like Front Line are detrimental towards counterterrorism in that they alienate the Muslim community in America, the very group that could be helping to reveal terrorist suspects, argued litigation team member Sameer Ahmed LAW ’09.
The litigation team is continuing to sue ICE under the Freedom of Information Act in order to receive the thousands of documents still hidden from public view.