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Deepa Iyer Headshot

Looking ahead to 9/11/2011: The Time for National Healing Begins Now

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In mid-February, people around the country marked the National Day of Remembrance to acknowledge the impact of Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese American citizens and residents during World War II on the basis of their national origin and ethnicity. It has been over 65 years since Executive Order 9066 was implemented, and yet, it seems that our leaders continue to make policy decisions rooted in many of the same faulty assumptions and fear tactics on which Executive Order 9066 was based.

Since September 11, 2001, South Asians, Arab Americans, and Muslims have become the latest targets of suspicion in the United States and in many European countries. In every context - the workplace, the school yard, the airport and the borders, and even in places of worship - community members have been reporting increased levels of harassment, bullying, and surveillance.

These experiences are not limited to the private sector. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and other civil rights organizations have long documented the pattern of government-sponsored policies that specifically target individuals who are affiliated with certain countries or religious faiths (primarily Muslim). In the days after September 11th, the United States government began to utilize immigration law and courts as well as interrogation and detention practices based on national security justifications in order to identify, target and hold countless South Asians, Arab Americans and Muslims. The policies enacted bear important-sounding names - special interest detainees; special registration or NSEERS -but the impact has been nothing short of devastating: families being torn apart; civil rights and liberties being denied even in the justice system; deportations ranging in the thousands; and neighborhood landscapes in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas forever altered.

These policies are not limited to the months and years immediately after September 11, 2001. Most recently, after the terrorism attempt on board a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009, the Transportation Security Administration issued a set of standards subjecting passengers traveling to the United States from 14 countries to heightened scrutiny screenings. These standards clear the way for the profiling of individuals based simply on their ethnicity, religion and country of origin. We know from studies of traffic stops and drug-related enforcement that racial profiling is not a useful means of identifying criminal behavior, and that relying upon behavior profiles might be more effective. In the case of the airport security standards implemented in January of this year, the government is again casting a wide net while relying upon the discretion of airport security staff to enforce the new guidelines with little, if any, oversight.

Almost ten years since September 11th, our country is still struggling to come to grips with the assumptions that lay behind Executive Order 9066. It is time for our country's leaders and policymakers to move away from misguided policies that lead to the targeting of communities for no reason other than the country from which they come or the religions they practice.

Nearly fifty years after the implementation of Executive Order 1066, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and acknowledged the grave injustices that were perpetrated on Japanese Americans during World War II.

Let's not wait fifty years to recognize the impact of post 9/11 policies on our communities and our country. The Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice and other civil rights components of federal government agencies can play important roles in reviewing and rescinding many of the policies implemented after 9/11. As we come up on the ten-year anniversary of September 11th in 2011, Congress and the President can lead the way towards national healing and a return to our country's fundamental values by supporting measures and practices that will acknowledge and rectify the injustices of the past ten years.

The movement towards national healing must begin now.

Cross-posted from Race-Talk.