ACLU Calls Immigrant Registration Program Pretext for Mass Detentions

December 19, 2002

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON - In a development that confirms the American Civil Liberties Union's initial fears about a controversial immigrant fingerprinting and registration program, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is apparently using the program as a pretext for the mass detention of hundreds of Middle Eastern and Muslim men and boys.

"Given the evidence, there is no alarmism in saying this is a round-up," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "Attorney General Ashcroft is using the immigrant registration program to lock up people who already have provided extensive information as part of their green card applications," he said. "Therefore the purpose is clearly not to get information but rather to selectively arrest, detain and deport Middle Eastern and Muslim men in the United States."

According to media reports covering growing protests against the detentions, up to 700 Middle Eastern and Muslim men and boys were arrested in Southern California by federal immigration authorities after they voluntarily complied with a new program that mandates the fingerprinting and registration of all male visitors 16 years and older from certain Middle Eastern countries. It remains unclear how many others have been detained across the country, but reportedly a full one-quarter of all those who complied with the program were arrested in Los Angeles.

The men detained are all from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and the Sudan, the five countries whose visitors to the United States were required to register with the INS by December 16.

In most cases, it is apparent that the INS arrested men who were simply waiting for approval of their green card applications, or those with minor visa problems caused by incompetence in the agency itself, which has been plagued by an inept bureaucracy for years. In but one example, the San Diego Union Tribune reported on July 27, 2002 that the agency recently failed to process more than 200,000 change of address forms and then unceremoniously dumped them in the largest underground records facility in the world - an abandoned mine near Kansas City - putting hundreds of thousands at risk of wrongful arrest and deportation for failing to report a change of address.

The ACLU also questioned the effectiveness of the program, given the enormous outlay of resources necessary to engage in detentions on this scale.

"The INS is wasting an incredible amount of government resources in rounding up these men and boys," said Dalia Hashad, the ACLU's Arab, Muslim and South Asian Advocate. "It seems unlikely that a hardened terrorist is going to voluntarily register with the government," she added. "What is more likely is that law-abiding people who were planning to register will now be afraid to come in because of the arrests, and the INS will use that as an excuse to deport them." 

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, a move that could push the detentions into the tens of thousands, the ACLU said.

A coalition alert with information about registration requirements is online at: /cpredirect/11705

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