Deadlines Approach for Ashcroft Immigrant Fingerprinting Program; ACLU Says Plan is Full of Holes, Advises Immigrants to Seek Counsel

December 13, 2002

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

WASHINGTON - In response to two upcoming deadlines in the controversial Department of Justice immigrant fingerprinting and tracking program, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on the Justice Department to rethink the plan - which the ACLU says is full of holes - and advised immigrants to seek counsel before registering.

"Despite the fear this creates in the Arab and Muslim community and the friction it creates with our allies in the fight against terror, Attorney General Ashcroft seems intent on moving forward with this misguided plan," said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "The INS can't handle the information it has already collected - adding more hay to the haystack won't make finding the needle any easier. We're less safe with this program."

The ACLU took two steps today to highlight the dangers of the program. In a letter to the Attorney General, a coalition of immigrant groups, including the ACLU, asked him to scrap the program or, failing that, at least move back the deadlines for registry in the program so that the myriad kinks in its implementation can be worked out. The ACLU, in collaboration with other organizations, is releasing an advisory to immigrants in an attempt to address some of the confusion surrounding the program and suggesting that immigrants consult legal counsel about the intricacies of the registration process.

Monday, December 16 marks the deadline after which many citizens of five predominantly Arab or Muslim countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria - must be fingerprinted at designated Immigration and Naturalization Service offices or face deportation. By January 10, 2003, citizens of 13 additional countries - Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen - must also submit to registration. 

Failure to register could lead to arrest and deportation of otherwise lawful visitors, according to the INS. Adding to the anxiety, some Arab and Muslim visitors with pending immigration petitions were detained when they came in to be fingerprinted.

By all accounts, the INS's problems are actually stemming from a surplus of information, not insufficient investigatory powers, the ACLU said. For instance, the INS failed to process more than 200,000 change of address forms, which are piling up in an abandoned limestone mine outside Kansas City, MO that doubles as the largest underground records facility in the world, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of wrongful arrest and deportation.

"This program appears to be a thinly veiled effort to trigger massive and discriminatory deportations of certain immigrants whose only mistake will be to fail to register because they are confused and afraid, not because they have violated any existing immigration law or pose any threat to the United States," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

The coalition letter can be found at:
/cpredirect/11708

The coalition alert is also online at: /cpredirect/11703

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