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Ahmed Alenany was driving a cab in Brooklyn when he was caught in the post- Sept. 11 dragnet. He was arrested Sept. 21, 2001 by a police officer who questioned him about stopping in a no-parking zone, and who found that his visa had expired.

Alenany told an immigration judge that he did not need a lawyer and just wanted to get home to his wife and two children in Cairo. When the judge suggested that deportation would be the fastest route, he agreed, and received his deportation order on Oct. 16. But authorities refused to comply with that order after learning that the 50-year-old Egyptian might have made anti-American comments; that he had taped a picture of the World Trade Center to the glove box of his cab; and that while driving a cab in Saudi Arabia in 1990, he might have dropped a fare off at a house belonging to Osama bin Laden. At last report, he was still in legal limbo — neither charged with a crime, nor free to go. THE FIFTH AMENDMENT MAKES NO DISTINCTION AMONG INDIVIDUALS, STATING CLEARLY THAT “NO PERSON SHALL… BE DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY OR PROPERTY WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF THE LAW.” THE U.S. SUPREME COURT AFFIRMED THIS PRINCIPLE AS RECENTLY AS JUNE 2001. YET HUNDREDS ARE STILL INCARCERATED WITHOUT ACCESS TO LAWYERS...

As a child, “I felt love for America,” he told The New York Times five months after his arrest. “Now, I’m in very bad shape . . . . Sometimes I feel it’s hopeless, that I will stay in this jail all my life.”

Alenany’s case is not unusual. Many of the immigrants detained in the post-Sept. 11 crackdowns were denied due process — despite constitutional guarantees that apply to citizens and noncitizens alike. The Fifth Amendment makes no distinction among individuals, stating clearly that “No person shall…. be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law.” The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this principle as recently as June 2001. Yet hundreds are still incarcerated without access to lawyers, and the government has drawn a cloak of secrecy around them in violation of international law and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s own rules.

In a blistering report based on information from attorneys, family members and visits to two New Jersey jails, Amnesty International concluded six months after the attacks that some detainees had been held for as many as 119 days without being told why. Some had been denied access to attorneys for up to three months. Some were shackled, and held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods. A man who had lived in the U.S. for 11 years was deported to Pakistan in January without notice to his family.

The Legal Aid Society, which was permitted to interview 30 detainees in the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn during a brief period of access last fall, found even harsher conditions there. It reported that one detainee was taken from the facility in an orange prison jumpsuit and put on a plane to Nepal in the middle of the night without his identity card, bank card or clothing.

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