Homeland Security's Heavy Hand

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Chicago Sun Times

Homeland Security's Heavy Hand

The week before last, after a blue moon and in the middle of the dog days (when the dog star rises with the sun), the Bush administration cried wolf. Tom Ridge, czar of Homeland Security, scared the living daylights out of the country on a dog day Sunday afternoon by listing financial institutions that had been targeted by al-Qaida. He praised the president for his leadership on homeland security: a nice boost for the sagging re-election campaign. Troops in full armor and carrying automatic weapons appeared around the targets. It was a grim Sunday evening in America.

The next day the stock market -- allegedly the target of the plotting -- pushed the Dow average higher. Perhaps the blue moon, dog day omens were not good for crying wolf again. It also emerged that the material about the targets had been gathered four years ago, though it ''may'' have been updated as recently as January. The head of MI6, the British intelligence agency, raised questions about frightening people when there was no evidence of immediate threat. He also wondered whether the release of so much information might endanger ongoing intelligence operations.

Clearly, the discovery of al-Qaida computers was a major breakthrough, even if the computers tell more about its past than about the present. However, the Bush administration has cooked up a couple of weeks of fear. Whether they have cried wolf once too often remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Homeland Security doesn't seem to have the time or the money to make the nation's ports secure.

It does have the time, however, to practice cruelty. It discovered 292 refugees from the volcano eruption on the island of Montserrat in 1995 (many of them descendants of the Irish slaves Cromwell had exiled to the Indies). This year Homeland Security canceled their ''temporary protected status.'' Either they must go back to Monserrat, which is unsafe, or to England or to anywhere. But they must leave the new families they have formed and their new jobs and new homes and depart the United States. What kind of men and women take pleasure in such cruelty?

I encountered recently the harsh face of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act in the Harbor Country of western Michigan. The victim snatched away by Ridge's goons is Ibrahim Parlax, the proprietor of the Cafe Gulistan restaurant in Harbert. My friend and colleague Roger Ebert (who introduced me to the wonders of the cafe) insists that Parlax, granted permanent residence and political asylum many years ago, runs the best restaurant in this part of the world.

Parlax is a gentle, soft-spoken man, lovingly kind to his 7-year-old daughter and warmly friendly to all his clients. His story since he came to America -- after time in a Turkish jail -- is a perfect type of the American dream: a poor immigrant working hard, making a success of himself and becoming a true American. His big mistake was applying for U.S. citizenship. That gave the vile people at Homeland Security a chance to reconsider -- after more than a decade -- this grant of political asylum.

We cannot afford in this country to lose such an admirable potential citizen.

Parlax is not a violent man and never recommended violence in his time as a Kurdish nationalist, much less is an ''aggravated felon.'' However, given the hatred of the Turks for all Kurdish nationalists, if he is sent back to Turkey he may very well die.

I trust those who have his fate in their hands understand that the Kurds are the solid allies of the United States in Iraq and are strongly pro-American. As centuries-long victims of oppression by Iraqis, Iranians and Turks, they are loyal to their friends, and the United States is their friend. The charges against Ibrahim seem not only wild but innocent of understanding of the Kurds or the situation in that part of the world. Perhaps someone could tell Ridge that the Kurds are our allies.

The alternative to deportation and death is apparently permanent detention -- which means until the goons in Homeland Security are swept out of office.

Andrew Greeley

Andrew W. Greeley is a progressive Catholic priest, sociologist, journalist and popular novelist. He is of Irish decent and resides in Chicago.

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