Published on Wednesday, January 7, 2004 by the Toronto Star
US 'Targets Minorities'
New Rules Amount to Racial Profiling, Critics Suggest
They're 'not going to make America more secure'
by Nicholas Keung and Tracy Huffman
New American security measures that require fingerprints and photographs of millions of visitors a year won't make the U.S. any safer, but will further stigmatize Canada's landed immigrants as potential terrorists, community activists say.
"Unfortunately, the terrorist attacks have changed our life and the way we view things. For the U.S. government, racial profiling seems to be the answer to the threat," said John Asfour, spokesperson for the Canadian Arab Federation.
"The new rule targets racial minorities on both sides of the border and will only further anger the enemy, so to speak."
Kimberly Weissman, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the increased security measures under the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, or US-VISIT, are part of the administration's anti-terrorism initiative.
Weissman said although exemptions apply for residents of many countries, officials may use their own discretion.
"This is not a discriminatory program," she said. "Based on intelligence information or national security information ... an inspector may feel that someone needs further questioning or further processing. ... It is very situational."
By the end of this year, the program will be implemented at all border crossings and apply to people coming in and out of U.S., Weissman said.
Alex Swann, spokesperson for Canada's Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Department, played down the program's potential impact on Canadian travelers.
"The majority of students and workers with student visas and some work permits should be okay as long as they have no (visa) stickers in their passports," he said in an interview yesterday. "The sticker is the flag."
Swann said Canadian officials have been working closely with their American counterparts on border security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and had been consulted on the launch of the program.
He said Canada has no plans yet to follow some European countries and implement digitized fingerprints on its passports. "We take policy based on our Canadian needs. We are not going to rule in or rule out on that," he said.
Critics see the new U.S. program as an attack on civil liberties.
"The US-VISIT program is not going to make America more secure," said Avvy Go, of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. "Real terrorists are not going to enter the States through visas anyway, and there will always be home-grown terrorists, like Timothy McVeigh, in their country."
Go said Canada has already created two classes of people by requiring landed immigrants to acquire a permanent resident card to get in and out of the country, and the US-VISIT program is going to further stigmatize Canada's immigrants, who are not exempt from the new border rules.
Asfour agrees. "Under the banner of national security, the U.S. government has taken away the basic civil rights of its people and the rights of others in the world. It raises serious personal privacy concerns," he said.
Go said Canadians should find the initiative offensive. "All our immigrants have been screened for security concerns when they move to Canada. Basically what the Americans are saying is, `Sorry, we don't trust your process and we see them as potential terrorists.'"
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