L.A. groups criticize White House program on homegrown extremism

White House program aimed at homegrown extremists comes under fire from L.A. civil rights and community groups

Several Los Angeles civil rights and community groups said Thursday they would not support a White House-led initiative aimed at dissuading U.S. citizens from going abroad to fight with groups like the Islamic State, criticizing the effort as “ill-conceived, ineffective and stigmatizing.”

Los Angeles was one of three cities chosen by the Obama administration in September for a pilot program as part of an initiative known as "Countering Violent Extremism." Officials said the effort would seek to intervene in the lives of people who may be susceptible to recruitment from terrorist groups or those who had returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

A Department of Homeland Security coordinator was reaching out to schools, healthcare providers and community groups to get their help in monitoring and deterring potential recruits as part of the program, officials said at the time.

Thursday’s statement from some of the community groups that were part of the outreach efforts could complicate the administration’s implementation of the program.

In the statement, groups that include the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. government had been less than forthcoming with details about the program and raised concerns that it would lead to religious profiling and stigmatization and infringe on the rights of the Muslim community.

“We cannot in good conscience sanction programs that are discriminatory and appear so rife with the possibility of subjecting members of our communities to unwarranted scrutiny and abuse,” the groups said in the statement.

The groups said they were concerned the new initiative would resemble past actions by federal law enforcement in Southern California, including a case in which the FBI surveilled and infiltrated mosques in the region. They urged administration officials to rely on specific evidence of criminal activity "and not on the faulty premise that an entire community is suspect by association."

The statement was also signed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Sikh American and Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. 

Representatives of the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In announcing the program, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said the initiative would "bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders and United States attorneys to improve local engagement; to counter violent extremism; and -- ultimately -- to build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe."

U.S. officials have said in recent months that as many as 100 of the estimated 10,000 foreign fighters who have joined or attempted to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq hold U.S. passports.

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