It's been some time since the rights of immigrants, like those so famously swept up in the post-9/11 roundups and held for months without charges, claimed the public's attention. Perhaps it's time for a new wave of outrage --- this time on behalf of a pair of teenage girls, whose only crime may have been to talk to one another.
I'm actually a little astonished at how little I've seen in the blogosphere about Nina Bernstein's excellent series this week on two Muslim teenagers held by Homeland Security -- for , it appears, a chat room conversation. Neighbors, friends and teachers are outraged:
"They have painted this picture of her as this person that is trying to destroy our way of life, and I know in my heart of hearts that this is bogus," said Ms. Carr, who welcomed the Guinean girl to her house daily and knows her family well. "I feel like, how dare they? She's a minor, and even if she's not a citizen, she has rights as a human being."
According to a government document provided to The New York Times by a federal official earlier this week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has asserted that both girls are "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based on evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." No evidence was cited, and federal officials will not comment on the case.
Its mysteries deepened as teachers and neighbors gave details of the Guinean girl's life, like the jeans she wore under her Muslim garb, her lively classroom curiosity about topics like Judaism and art and her after-school care for four younger siblings while her parents, illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States since 1990, eked out a living.
"I just can't fathom this," said her art teacher, Kimberly Lane, who has repeatedly called the youth detention center but like Ms. Carr was not allowed to speak to the girl, who has no lawyer. Among the unanswered questions they raised was why, if she was really a suspect, no F.B.I. agent had shown up to search her school locker or question her classmates, who sent her letters of support.
"This is a girl who's been in this country since she was 2 years old," Ms. Lane said. "She's just a regular teenager - like, two weeks ago her biggest worry was whether she'd done her homework or studied for a science test."
The girls are being held in a detention facility in Pennsylvania. Ask why, and the feds claim"government secrets," just as they've said when asked to show that Maher Arar or Yaser Essem Hamdi was being held for good reason. Even some in the FBI doubt that it'll hold up:
The document, which describes the background of the case, said the F.B.I. believed the girls presented "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based upon evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." It does not describe the nature of that evidence.
But one federal official, not connected to the F.B.I., expressed skepticism that the teenagers represented a real risk of a suicide bombing.
"There are doubts about these claims, and no evidence has been found that such a plot was in the works," said the government official in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case involves a pending legal matter. A senior law enforcement official in New York voiced the same doubts.
Teenage girls talking suicide. Hm. Some FBI hack (apologies to those bureau employees who aren't) haunting Muslim chat rooms praying for something, anything, that will win him Terror Hunter of the Week. When he saw these girls' chatter pop up on his ThinkPad, he likely stood up in his chair. What could possibly be sexier than rounding up some girls? When they conveniently turn out to be immigrants, whose rights are even hazier than that of "enemy combatants," the field office must have been ready to pop the champagne.
I hope those of us who stood up against Gonzales, who press ahead on human rights, can keep this case in our sights.
(p.s. Computer problems have kept me from this blog since Friday -- and from a lot else, just as both the semester and the scholarship chase are maintaining a nice fever pitch. My apologies to those who checked this space and saw the half-draft of this post, which I'd meant to save as draft.)