As Immigrant Registration Deadlines Loom Once Again, ACLU Sees Trap for Arabs and Muslims

October 30, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – With a new annual deadline looming under the government’s “”special registration”” program for certain immigrants, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked the Department of Homeland Security to explain why it had failed to give adequate information to immigrants who are required to “”re-register”” beginning next month.

The ACLU charged that the government was setting a trap for tens of thousands of predominantly Middle Eastern and Muslim men by failing to advise them of the program’s complex requirements.

“”The government has no excuse for failing to publicize this impending deadline to people who registered last year and who have obviously tried to do all they can to comply with the law,”” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

“”This has all the markings of a trap for unwary immigrants rather than a genuine effort to collect information,”” he added. “”If the goal is to encourage people to meet the re-registration deadline then why has the government failed abysmally to give those individuals meaningful information on the deadlines and rules governing the program?””

In a letter sent today to immigration and homeland security officials, the ACLU said it was “”not aware of any meaningful efforts undertaken by the Department of Homeland Security to publicize these impending deadlines or any of the other requirements that may be applicable to persons who registered.””

The letter further stated that “”numerous questions remain regarding the specific requirements of the re-registration process,”” including basic information such as where some registrants must go, the effect of travel abroad since the initial registration, and how the government will ensure respect for the right to an attorney at re-registration. The letter is online at /node/22990

The ACLU has also sent an advisory to immigrant advocates and lawyers warning of the impending deadlines and requirements of the National Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) Special Registration program. The advisory is online at /node/22232

According to the advisory, immigrants who registered last year under NSEERS must re-register within 10 days of the anniversary of their individual original registration date. The anniversary of the first day of last year’s registrations — which were carried out in four phases — is November 15, which means that some immigrants could be subject to a new deadline as early as 10 days later and could begin the re-registration process as early as November 5. The members of that first group include men and boys aged 16 and older from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

Last year, the initial registration deadlines resulted in mass confusion, detentions, and ultimately, the initiation of deportation proceedings against more than 13,000 men from predominantly Islamic nations, according to Dalia Hashad, the ACLU’s Arab, Muslim and South Asian Advocate.

In most cases, it was apparent that the INS had 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.

“”NSEERS is a poorly implemented plan that has failed to advance our national security or improve efficiency within our immigration system,”” Hashad said. “”The failure to publicize the new deadlines appears to be a continuation of the pattern of selectively arresting, detaining and deporting Middle Eastern and Muslim men in the United States.””

Earlier this year, the ACLU and a coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter to immigration and homeland security officials detailing a host of other problems with the NSEERS program and requesting a meeting to discuss them. The letter is online at /node/21248

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