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Interviews of US Iraqis: outreach or overreach?

With new data-gathering on expatriates, FBI steps up antiterror efforts - but may intensify immigrants' fears.

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The questions go like this: Do you support Saddam Hussein? Do you know any Saddam sympathizers? What is your religious affiliation? What are the names and addresses of your Iraqi family members living in the United States?

While Americans catch up on the latest war news after work, many Iraqis living here are finding themselves with FBI agents at their doorsteps.

These are just a few of the questions posed to them in the name of homeland security, as Iraqi-Americans are being asked to voluntarily answer questions about their immigration status and political leanings. But some say the interviews don't feel voluntary - and reflect a growing animosity toward Muslims in America. Others defend the interviews as a critical step in the war against Iraq.

It's the latest antiterrorism effort aimed at keeping America safe - and it took hold quietly when interviews began in earnest last week. Meanwhile, government agents were wrapping up the forced registration of certain Muslim visitors and making plans to detain asylum-seekers from countries linked to terrorism while their cases are pending.

Enforcement-oriented DHS

At the center of all this is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which expanded last month when it folded several border agencies into its already vast web of responsibilities. While experts say it's too early to tell how this new agency will shape up, its general direction is becoming clear.

"The Department of Homeland Security appears to be moving toward a very enforcement-oriented approach," says Wendy Young, with the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children in Washington. "It's viewing the foreign born and newcomers with suspicion, a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach. We need to find that balance between being open to immigration and remaining safe."


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