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Aliens Victims of Post 9/11 False Terrorism Tips

by Carl R. Baldwin

The New York Times for June 19, 2003 carried a front page article titled "False Terrorism Tips to F.B.I Uproot the Lives of Suspects." The article provides a nightmarish composite of malicious tipsters and rushed and unsteady law enforcement personnel.

Both immigrants and nonimmigrants were among the victims. Here are some of the appalling examples given by the Times. On the basis of one false tip, nine men in Evansville, Indiana were rounded up, shackled, paraded before a news photographer, and jailed for a week. They were released when the tip proved false, but in the meantime - in a scenario out of Kafka or "1984" - their names had been entered in a national crime registry as persons accused of terrorism. That listing prevented the men from flying, renting an apartment, or getting a job. The FBI chief in Indiana had the integrity and good judgment to go beyond apologies and ask a federal judge to clear their records. The article does not say whether the tipster was prosecuted.

In Michigan, a national of Yemen was jailed for a week before investigators found that the false and malicious tip was designed to aid the tipster in a family feud. In an especially outrageous example, a student national of Morocco was jailed on the basis of a false tip from his ex-wife, accusing him of plotting terrorism. The article does not say how long he was held, but notes that he was subsequently "hit with immigration charges," presumably for violating his F-1 status. I see nothing in the regulations that might permit the Commissioner to excuse such an unavoidable failure to maintain status. Is this another matter for the overburdened federal courts? In this case, it is somewhat gratifying to note that the false tipster was punished by a one-year jail sentence.

Another example of a marriage gone awry, and a resulting vendetta-based false tip, concerns an Egyptian national. The ex-wife told the FBI that her ex-husband plotted to blow up the federal Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, and that a member of the cell had already been paid $90.000 to set plans in motion. In a shocking, if true, summary of a conversation between the FBI and the false tipster, the FBI "promised to help [the ex-wife's] lapsed resident's visa." I guess that Faustian deal is off now, because the falsity of the accusation is clear, and the government has charged the ex-wife with providing false information. The family tragedy continues, with the ex-husband agreeing to leave the U.S. with the couple's four children.

I cannot and do not hold the government responsible for the vengeful attitudes that develop between hostile ex-spouses. That is something that the ancient Greek tragedians or a latter-day Eugene O'Neil would have to write about. But given the dreadful impact that a false accusation will have on aliens and their families (including U.S. citizen children), I wish that the administration would get rid of a mindset that is far too quick to link aliens, especially Muslim aliens, to terrorism.

About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. Mr. Baldwin's website of articles and commentary is at Mr. Baldwin has written a book on immigration law, "Immigration Questions and Answers," Allworth Press, 2002, which contains essential background information on how the immigration law works. It can be ordered online at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.