Veena Dubal, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, based in San Francisco, tells me that she has a client who found such a tracking device in his car in June 2009.
“I have an elderly Arab American client who was attending a free workshop on how to be a mechanic, and they were using his car as the demonstration car for an oil change,” she says. “In the middle of the class, the instructor stopped and said, ‘Oh my God, there’s a bomb in the car.’ So everyone evacuated. But it wasn’t a bomb. It was a tracking device. You can imagine how humiliating this was for my client. Everyone was looking at him like he was a terrorist and like he was going to blow them up.”
Her client, a retired social worker and a U.S. citizen, pulled the tracking device off the car and took the battery out.
A few days later, he took his car to a professional mechanic at Carlos Auto Repair in San Rafael.
“He came by one day and we worked on his car,” says Jorge Nogueiro, one of the owners of the shop. “And then a few weeks later some San Rafael undercover police came by and were looking for his car and his tracking device. They left me their card. The next day, the car owner stopped by, and I told them the police were looking for him. He said, ‘I’ll be damned.’ ”
Comment: In the months after 9/11 a few of my undergraduate Arab students (most of them from the UAE) were detained in Portland, Oregon. They were not charged with breaking any law. The police wanted to know why they traveled to Detroit so often.
The students explained that they have friends and relatives in Detroit (a city with one of the largest Arab communities in the US).
It was around this time that Portland State University administration informed us that it was our responsibility to make sure that foreign students were in class. "If a student misses more than three classes you must let the registrar know," we were told.
"If a foreign student is habitually absent and is found to be guilty of a crime against the US you may be held responsible," was added without a flinch.
My immediate reaction was to ask why foreign students only. I asked the chair of my department if we should also, as a measure of democratic inclusion, let the university authorities know when any student missed more than three classes.
"Are we being asked to spy on Arab students," I asked without expecting a straight answer.
My question went unanswered.
It was becoming apparent that there was some kind of collusion between the University and those in the US security complex. In short, they were watching Arab students and other foreign students deemed to come from suspect terrorist regions, of course.
A few days after my students were detained they came by my office to tell me that they were released with no explanation.
"They had been watching us for a long time. They entered our house and confiscated our computers. Travel documents were taken too, " I remember one saying.
"Did you ask them or the University to explain why you guys," I asked.
"When they could not connect us to anything bad in Detroit they said they were investigating us for concerns about fraud," another replied.
"Fraud, what kind of fraud?," I asked in amazement.
"They said they had heard that Arab students use term papers that are not written by them but that we were OK because they did not find plagiarized papers on our computers or in our house and cars," the answer followed.
"What does Detroit have to do with term papers and plagiarism and such a high profile attention from the national security folk," I asked.
"There are Muslims and lots of Arabs there," the answer came.
In the weeks and months after 9/11 Arab students started leaving the campus for home. Their parents were worried that there kids were being profiled in a country that was growing more and more paranoid about Islam and Muslims.
What amazed me about the profiling of Arab students was that not one academic or staff member stood up to question what was going on. The manner that the University was obviously colluding to make the records of Arab students available to national security authorities and for no reason other than the fact that they were Arab and mostly Muslim was not called into question.
The excuse that this incident was about plagiarism was laughable. When did plagiarism become a national security issue?
So much for democracy and all that Bill of Rights fluff that is thrown around. It is all contextual and can be set aside when the US is at its authoritarian best.
I pressed for answers best I could but the affair was hidden and closed for discussion. The University only started to worry when the declining registration of Arab students started to hit its coffers.