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MORNINGS WITH PAULA ZAHN

Homeland Security: Ashcroft Asking Law Enforcement Officials to Interview Some 5,000 People Here on Temporary Visas

Aired November 20, 2001 - 08:51   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In the name of homeland security, Attorney General John Ashcroft is asking law enforcement officials to interview some 5,000 people currently here on temporary visas. They come from countries with suspected terrorist links.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have just directed the task forces to coordinate the interviews of individuals who we believe may have information helpful to our investigative and prevention efforts. By necessity, many if not most of these interviews will be conducted by members of state and local law enforcement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: One community hit hard by the directive is Dearborn, Michigan, where one in four residents is of Arab descent.

Dearborn police officer Daniel Saab, an Arab-American himself, expects to be one of those assigned to ask the tough questions. He joins us from Detroit.

Good of you to join us. Welcome, sir.

CPL. DANIEL SAAB, DEARBORN POLICE: Thank you for having me.

ZAHN: Are you at all conflicted about your assignment?

SAAB: Well, If I'm selected by the FBI and the local police chief and I'm asked to do the interviews, yes, it may be -- I might be a little bit afraid to do the interviews, but I'm a police officer and have to do my job, so I'd be glad to do to help federally and local law enforcement.

ZAHN: Is it true some people on the street have accused you of selling out?

SAAB: Well, not since September 11th, it's not actually geared toward that. It's just tough to be an Arab-American officer and to police your own. Sometimes, you know, they may want a little bit of break here and there, but you know, it's tough to police your own, but you know, I'm here to do a job, but I'm a police officer and have to uphold the laws. ZAHN: What do you think will be the toughest part of challenge, particularly if assigned to role by FBI? Going into area surrounding a mosque, where people are praying?

SAAB: Well, if I have to do that, there might be a little bit of concern. I might be a little bit nervous or afraid, especially maybe if I know the person, but again, I have taken an oath and have sworn- in to uphold the law, and I have to do my job, and if that's what it takes, I have to do my job.

ZAHN: Have you ever over the years tried to hide your ethnic identity?

SAAB: There's been a couple of incidents where I've maybe refused to let the people know, like at a -- give you an example of a neighbor dispute I had where I didn't want to tell them my ethnicity because I didn't want them to feel I'm one-sided, geared toward one or the other. So yes, I've done one or twice.

ZAHN: Do you ever think there's been a situation where you were personally discriminated on, either on the force or outside of the force, because of your Arab-American heritage?

SAAB: Not in the city of Dearborn. The city great. My coworkers are awesome. My police chief the best. And the mayor, Michael Gidel (ph), is the best, and I got support from my coworkers and everybody in the city. And actually, the city of Dearborn is probably the safest place in the United States.

ZAHN: Final question for you this morning, I know you said that you will take on whatever job that the FBI gives you or your department. Do you understand why some people view this new program as racial profiling?

SAAB: I can understand, maybe in a sense, where if some person is here in this country on a student visa, where he would all of a sudden be contacted by the FBI to be questioned in regards to any terrorist activities. I could understand maybe the subject being a little bit nervous about talking to anybody. As you know, you get a little bit nervous to talking to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

ZAHN: Well, we wish you luck. We know you are taking it from all sides, for the position you've been put in because of your heritage. And thank you for your honesty this morning.

SAAB: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Daniel Saab, with the Dearborn Police Department, take care.

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