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Justice Department Secretly Charters An Airlift to Deport 131 Pakistanis Imprisoned for Months

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According to United Press International, South Asian diplomats say the U.S. is planning to deport scores of Pakistanis. According to the report, the diplomats said the names of 70 detainees to be sent back to Pakistan had already been finalized and there was a list of another 124 to 200 probable names. The diplomats say none had any apparent links to terrorism. Most have been detained for overstaying their visas or other immigration infractions. The report says 24 Pakistanis had been arrested over one recent 48 hour period in Atlanta alone.

Last month, the Justice Department secretly chartered a Portuguese jet to deport 131 Pakistani prisoners. The prisoners had been arrested for various petty charges and immigration infractions since September 11th, and held for months at INS detention facilities around the country. None had been charged with links to terrorism. They were all flown to Louisiana and boarded onto the jet.

The men -and one woman-were led to the plane in handcuffs. Many did not want to go. According to the Washington Post, one man lay down on the tarmac, and another had to be carried onto the plane. Seconds before the plane was about to taxi, a man whose wife had obtained a court order preventing his deportation was removed from the plane.

But when the flight touched down 20 hours later, about 50 detainees dropped to their knees and pressed their foreheads to the tarmac in thanks.

Since September 11th, US authorities have detained 1,200 people, mainly Arabs and South Asians. Not one of these has been charged with terrorism. According to figures released by the Justice Department last year, 300 of those detained in the United States were from Pakistan, more than from any other country.

We’re joined right now by an ACLU lawyer who spoke with many of the Pakistanis before they were airlifted out of the country.


  • Ahilan Arulanantham, staff counsel at the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project.

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