WASHINGTON - Dozens of immigrants have been pulled in by an FBI terrorist dragnet, and men who look like Arabs have been taken off domestic airlines when crews refused to fly. Almost half of all Americans think Arabs in this country should carry special identification cards, and more than two-thirds say they favor ethnic profiling, polls show.
''This is an extraordinary time for our people,'' said James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute. ''We are going to pay the price for the criminal acts of people who are not part of America's Arab community.''
The price of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is likely to be higher than the immediate backlash against brown-skinned people in the United States. Today, Attorney General John Ashcroft will appear before the House Judiciary Committee to defend a sweeping package of counterterrorism proposals that could affect the civil liberties of all Americans.
'This is a very dangerous moment. We get it all wrong if we legislate when people are convulsed by emotion, outraged in anger, and thirsting for revenge.
David M. Kennedy, author of ''Freedom from Fear,'' a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Great Depression and World War II
Ashcroft has asserted that the legislation, which would give law-enforcement agencies a larger arsenal of surveillance tools, easier access to personal information, and new authority to detain and deport noncitizens for suspicious activity, ''harmonizes'' civil rights and national security.
But many civil libertarians are cautioning Congress to move slowly, and yesterday Richard A. Gephardt, the House minority leader, said members in both parties have ''concerns'' about the proposals. Ashcroft is certain to face tough questioning tomorrow in the Senate Judiciary Committee from Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee chairman, and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who are working to get the bill's immigration provisions removed or rewritten.
''We have to find that balance between constitutional protections and ensuring that law enforcement officials have whatever tools they need to get the job done,'' Senate majority leader Tom Daschle said yesterday on ''Meet the Press.''
Historically, the nation has found that balance hard to strike. In the tumult of a national emergency, presidents, Congress, and the courts have acted to protect the public in ways that seemed necessary at the moment but had consequences beyond wartime and fell disproportionately hard on immigrant groups.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist chronicled examples from the Civil War through World War II in a 1998 book, ''All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime.''
''It is all too easy to slide from a case of genuine military necessity, where the power sought to be exercised is at least debatable, to one where the threat is not critical and the power either dubious or nonexistent,'' Rehnquist wrote.
''This is a very dangerous moment,'' said historian David M. Kennedy, author of ''Freedom from Fear,'' a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Great Depression and World War II. ''We get it all wrong if we legislate when people are convulsed by emotion, outraged in anger, and thirsting for revenge.''
The most notorious case of that occurred after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when Congress gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the authority to impose curfews and detentions on Japanese-Americans. Some 120,000 people were sent to ''relocation centers'' during World War II.
One of the Bush administration's proposals would permit the Immigration and Naturalization Service to indefinitely detain noncitizens for possible terrorist connections, with no right to an appeal. Denise Gilman, an immigration attorney at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, called it ''truly frightening. It's like Japanese internment camps.''
Gilman said courts have ruled that all immigrants, including those who enter or stay in the US illegally, are entitled to constitutional rights ''pretty much the same as everybody else's,'' including the right to due process in criminal proceedings.
David Cole has defended and won the freedom of more than a dozen Arab immigrants who were imprisoned, in some cases for years, on the basis of classified or secret evidence. In 1996, in the wake of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Congress passed a law giving the INS the authority to use secret evidence against immigrants linked to terrorism.
''This isn't the first time that we have felt under attack from within,'' said Cole, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. ''That was what the McCarthy era was all about. We overreacted, finding guilt by association and putting people under suspicion not for what they did, but for their identity.''
During World War I, Congress curbed civil liberties with sweeping censorship and antisedition laws. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson's attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, responded to a bombing at his home by authorizing raids in 33 cities and arresting 6,000 people, most of them immigrants, some of them citizens, on suspicion that they were Communists or anarchists. Many were imprisoned, some were deported, but there was never proof of a plot.
Cole said the United States has ''learned from its mistakes'' and is not going to imprison all Arab or Muslim immigrants while it wages war against Islamic extremists abroad. ''My real concern is that the administration is not proposing changes for this crisis, but changes that are permanent and in all likelihood will last a generation,'' Cole said.
Many Americans support more security, even if it infringes on civil liberties. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 61 percent said they would be willing to sacrifice some freedoms to curb terrorism.
Douglas Kmiec, dean of the law school at the Catholic Univerity of America, said most of what the Justice Department has proposed, from additional wiretapping authority to wider information-sharing by law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, is ''well-structured to address the terrorist threat.
''On the immigration provisions, it is my view that those who come to this country are our guests,'' Kmiec said. ''The terms are that you are welcome to come here and pursue education and employment opportunities, but not to kill 6,000 individuals in New York, Washington, or anywhere else.''
The full House is expected to consider the legislation next week, and majority whip Dick Armey said it might separate some measures and move on the least controversial ones first. Daschle said he hoped the Senate and administration could reach consensus on the language of the bill this week.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company