A resounding, beautiful name for a highly suspect and reprehensible strategy, Operation Liberty Shield is the official name, not for another U.S. war, but for a joint operation, officially launched on Feb 28, 2003 by the FBI and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain for "voluntary interviews" any illegal immigrants from "high-risk" countries who might have any information related to security threats to the U.S.

In other words, they are rounding up Iraqis. It doesn't matter if they've been in the country for 5 months or 15 years, if their papers aren't fully in order then their "voluntary interview" with the FBI could lead to a "voluntary incarceration", a "voluntary sharing of information under no duress at all, we promise" or even an "entirely voluntary departure from the country".

This is not new. During the hostage crisis in Iran, hundreds of Iranian students across the country were detained and interviewed "on immigration charges", with many of them being deported. Someone tried to take the case to court, saying that this represented a discriminatory application of the immigration laws, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected this argument. Indeed, it is already the case that entirely legal immigrants from "high risk" countries (for example Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen) are treated differently to those from other countries, being forced, among other things, to sign up at "registration centers".

Ana Atanasio, a spokesperson for the FBI, said that this was "a logical thing you would do at a time of war to reach out to the Iraqi community and ask them if they have any information". She said that this was not just information about possible threats to homeland security, but also information that might be of use to troops: "Sometimes it's information they are unaware of. 'I lived in this town, or I remember there was a military installation next to it.' That is something that would be useful." Indeed.

It is estimated that the FBI may "reach out to" up to 50,000 Iraqis nationwide. There is no specific information as to the reaction of the authorities if the "voluntary" interview is turned down. Presumably the reason that they are targeting illegal immigrants is that they can be threatened (in an indirect way, of course) with deportation if they don't comply. This kind of operation has been made more efficient (and even more distant from any kind of democratic control) by the enfolding of the INS, FBI and several other departments under the umbrella of the new Homeland Security Department - FBI agents now have the power to arrest people on immigration charges, a power previously reserved for INS and Customs agents.

Fortunately, U.S. citizens have no need to be concerned because the Justice Department has promised that these new powers will only be used "in appropriate situations". Anyone wishing to establish a legal definition of "appropriate" will presumably be told the same thing they were told when the USA Patriot Act was passed - "we're having a new dictionary written, should be ready soon."