WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department has identified about 6,000 Middle Eastern men who have ignored deportation orders and has made their arrest top priority in efforts to find foreigners illegally remaining in this country, officials said Tuesday.
The men are from nations that U.S. authorities consider strongholds for members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, said Dan Nelson, Justice Department spokesman, confirming a report in Tuesday's Washington Post.
The plan to give priority to a group of Arab and Muslim men over other foreign nationals who have disregarded deportation orders has raised concerns among some advocacy groups for immigrants.
Most of the more than 300,000 people ignoring deportation orders are from Latin America.
The latest effort stems from a broader initiative by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to crack down on foreign nationals who have remained in the country illegally.
The INS announced the effort last month and authorities are preparing to enter the names into a national FBI crime database over the next year.
Justice Department officials have decided to enter the names of the Middle Eastern group first. An undetermined number will be sought for arrest and removal through regional anti-terrorism task forces that include representatives from the FBI, INS and U.S. attorney's offices, authorities said.
Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, said men of Arab or Muslim backgrounds opposed the move.
``Obviously, these are highly sensitive times and nothing prevents INS from following leads to apprehend suspects, even if those leads include descriptions based on race or national origin,'' Henderson told the Post.
``But a dragnet approach to law enforcement _ rounding up men based on national origin rather than suspicious behavior or credible evidence _ is highly questionable.''