Feds Deny Detained Iraqi Was Victim of Profiling

The U.S. government has expressed regrets and made a $250,000 settlement with an Iraqi refugee who was mistakenly detained and nearly deported in 2003. But the Justice Department denies that the man was the victim of ethnic profiling.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

The U.S. government has expressed its regret to an Iraqi refugee who was mistakenly detained and nearly deported in 2003. The Justice Department has settled with the man for $250,000, but it denies his claim that he was a victim of ethnic profiling.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE: Four-and-a-half years ago, Abdul Amir Habib(ph) found himself sitting in federal custody in the town of Havre, Montana.

Mr. ABDUL AMIR HABIB: I'm alone, lonely, and it was that, nothing in my view. And they made me believe I will stay in the jail for life.

KASTE: Habib had been arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents, even though he hadn't been crossing any borders. He'd been riding Amtrak through Montana. And during a rest stop near the Canadian border, the agents stopped him, questioned him and arrested him. He believes they singled him out because he is Arab.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Aaron Caplan says Habib thought he'd left this kind of treatment behind when he'd fled Iraq.

Mr. AARON CAPLAN (American Civil Liberties Union): He never knew whether, you know, because he came from the wrong family or was from the wrong clan or had the wrong religion or the wrong political beliefs, the police might swoop him up and imprison him. And he came to America to get away from that.

KASTE: The Border Patrol accused Habib of failing to comply with a new post-9/11 rule requiring men from certain countries to register with the U.S. government. He spent eight days in detention and was almost deported. When it became clear that the registration rule didn't apply to refugees like him, he was released.

He sued over that mistake and now he has a letter of apology signed by the U.S. attorney in Seattle.

Jeffrey Sullivan...

Mr. JEFFREY SULLIVAN (U.S. Attorney): I acknowledged in the letter that in fact a mistake was made and that this letter will be put in his file and he should not ever have a problem like this again.

KASTE: But Sullivan says the government is not apologizing for the Border Patrol's motives in arresting Habeeb.

Mr. SULLIVAN: I don't believe there's any evidence that this case involved racial profiling. This case was not settled because of any allegation of racial profiling or because of any acknowledgement of racial profiling.

KASTE: The ACLU had hoped that the lawsuit would force the government to train Border Patrol agents not to single people out because they look foreign. The government has made no such promise.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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