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U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Operation Liberty Shield: Press Briefing by Secretary Ridge

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Office of the Press Secretary
March 18, 2003
For Immediate Release

Department of Homeland Security
Briefing Room

10:34 A.M. EST

[ ... ]

Q: Could you tell us more about the detentions of asylum seekers, how many you think will be detained and how many countries, and how long do you expect them to be detained?

SECRETARY RIDGE:  The detention of asylum seekers is basically predicated on one basic notion.  We just want to make sure that those who are seeking asylum, number one, are who they say they are and, two, are legitimately seeking refuge in our country because of political repression at home, not because they choose to cause us harm or bring destruction to our shores.  So, again, the detention will be constructed around that purpose.

Q: From how many nations will they be?


Q: How many nations are included in that list?

SECRETARY RIDGE:  Well, we'll be looking, obviously scrutinizing all asylum seekers at this time.  But there are countries who we believe are supportive of al Qaeda or countries where we know there is an al Qaeda network or other terrorist organizations and it will be those countries we are looking at specifically.

Q: If I can follow up on that, how many people do you know will be affected and for how long?  And if you could elaborate a little bit more on what is the precedent for detaining people for whom we have no specific suspicion that they are terrorists, and why take that extreme act?

SECRETARY RIDGE:  This approach has been done in the past.  Last year, I think in 2002, given the category of countries we're talking about, those who where we know there are known, existing terrorist organizations, al Qaeda and others, I think there were about 600 people that were temporarily detained, and about I think 60 percent of them were Iraqis.

So again, the purpose behind the temporary detention is fairly straightforward.  We want to make absolutely certain during this period of time you are who you say you are, and you're coming to this country that invites people from around the world that has been open and welcoming to people around the world.  But if you're seeking asylum for political purposes, we want to make absolutely certain that that's why you're here.

[ ... ]

11:01 A.M. EST