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U.S. officials: Deportable aliens from Mideast targeted

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Justice is launching a program to find about 6,000 people of Middle Eastern and Arab descent who are no longer eligible to stay in the United States, according to officials who spoke with CNN on the condition of anonymity.

While the largest group of "deportable aliens" are Hispanic, one U.S. government official said, "The intent is to make a priority of those who may fit the profile of a terrorist."

The government estimates that deportable aliens -- those who have overstayed their visas as well as those who have committed crimes that make them ineligible to remain in the United States -- totals about 314,000 people of various nationalities.

A program to find and deport them was announced last month by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Director James Ziglar.

The decision to start by tracking down those of Middle Eastern and Arab descent was made by the Justice Department, according to one official.

"They'll begin by putting names in the FBI's National Crime Information data base system, the most widely used tool for finding suspects," explained one source.

"Then, if anyone on the list applies for a driver's license, or gets stopped for speeding, their name could pop up and they'd be arrested," the source added.

The program to deport aliens of Middle Eastern or Arab descent will begin immediately. One official said it will be a "long, involved process."

Even though it is going after Middle Eastern and Arab aliens first, the Justice Department has repeatedly denied it has engaged in racial profiling since the September 11 terror attacks.

Authorities are currently wrapping up a program in which U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked about 5,000 Middle Eastern and Arab individuals to voluntarily submit to interviews. Ashcroft said he was seeking any information those people may have on terrorists or terrorist activities.




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