Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Blog

On December 22nd, Arab American community members in Paterson New Jersey gathered for a town hall meeting hosted by the Arab American Institute and the newly-formed United Arab American Coalition. The meeting brought together a panel of experts to speak and answer questions on the subjects of racial profiling and immigration. Among the panelists were Charles McKenna, Director of the NJ Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness; Assad Akhter, Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-8); and Hani Khoury, immigration attorney and founding partner of Ariyan, Khoury & Schildiner, LLP.

Charles McKenna spoke at length on the TSA, which he argued is doing a poor job in its role as the public face of this country’s homeland security efforts. He argued that profiling, when used properly, is an effective tool of all branches of law enforcement. The TSA and other law enforcement agencies, however, are too often basing their decisions on incomplete profiles. McKenna asserted that a profile based solely on a characteristic such a race or religion is not a complete profile and therefore not a suitable reason for stopping someone. McKenna told the Paterson audience that racial profiling and other forms of incomplete profiling is “lazy, improper, and simply bad policing.” According to McKenna, a complete profile must have about five or six indicators before it becomes a legitimate law enforcement tool.

Assad Akhter described his often-frustrating experiences dealing with immigration issues on Capitol Hill and lamented that the discussion of immigration reform in congress has all but ceased. He noted that Congressman Pascrell’s office helped 3,000 to 4,000 people each year with immigration problems and that he continues to fight for immigration reform to get the attention that it deserves on Capitol Hill.

Hani Khoury, as well as the other panelists, stressed to the audience the importance of reporting racial profiling when it is either witnessed or experienced. Khoury told the audience, “If you don’t complain, they’re not going to know the system is broken.” The panelists described the available channels to direct complaints and urged those in attendance that they had a responsibility to utilize such processes in instances of racial profiling. Members of the audience raised that point that Arab Americans must also do their part to educate their community about the means of getting racial profile complaints addressed, as well as combating the fear and distrust that prevents them to utilizing the available channels. Samer Khalaf, the event moderator and a member of AAI’s National Policy Council, encouraged people to not only complain, but also to thank elected officials when they speak out for the rights of Arab Americans.

This town hall granted Arab Americans in Paterson, New Jersey the chance to get their personal questions answered about immigration and racial profiling, as well as the chance to take part in a discussion about these issues on a national scale. Similar events will be taking place this year all across the country on a wide variety of issues of concern to the Arab American community. These meetings and discussions are a key component of the Arab American Institute’s Yalla Change campaign and our efforts to bring the change we need here at home. 

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