updated 10/17/2006 10:15:57 PM ET 2006-10-18T02:15:57

An Arab-American civil rights group filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government in a bid to access information about the nationalities of more than 230 people arrested for immigration violations.

The suit, filed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in U.S. District Court, names the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit as defendants.

The lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act after two years of unsuccessful attempts to learn the nationalities of individuals arrested in 2004 under a law enforcement operation intended to disrupt potential terrorist threats before the presidential elections.

The Washington-based group believes the operation improperly used a government database created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that tracks visitors, students and immigrants from 25 countries to profile Arab and Muslim visitors to the United States.

The registration system required males from 24 Arab and predominantly Muslim countries and North Korea to register with immigration authorities. The registration requirement has since been phased out, but the database of information still exists.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in November 2004 that in a one-month period, 237 people had been arrested.

“It was simply an effort to target immigration violators who may have posed an elevated public safety threat in the weeks leading to the presidential election,” said Dean Boyd, an ICE spokesman. Boyd said race, ethnicity and religion played “absolutely no role” in the operation.

The Arab-American organization wants to find out if the 237 people were disproportionately Arab and Muslim.

The federal agency said the registration database as well as two other databases were used, including one of student visa holders.

With the national elections approaching, the group fears the registration database is being used to target Arab and Muslim men for general law enforcement purposes.

“Our fear is that since it happened during the last national elections, is something like that going to happen again soon?” said Kareem Shora, the Arab-American group’s national executive director.

In the complaint, the group does not seek names of the people being held or how they were sought out. It only requests their nationalities.

In a letter responding to the FOIA requests, federal officials said the information is exempt from the act because it was collected for law enforcement purposes and is an ongoing investigation.

The civil rights group argues that getting just the nationalities of those arrested would not jeopardize any law enforcement operation.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments