Prepared by Ivan for Why War?
Jan. 16 — The Justice Department announced today that men and boys older than 16 from the nations of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait will now also be required to register by March 28 with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. This brings the total number of national groups who must register to 25, Reuters reports. The DoJ also announced that the deadlines for nearly all other foreign immigrants had been extended to March 28, giving them a second chance to register. From the UPI article:
"We do not want to punish those who were not informed on time or failed to register for genuine reasons," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department. "We will try to be as reasonable as we can, we don't want those to be in trouble and who had a good reason for missing the deadline," he added.
The deadline for immigrants from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remains Feb. 21.
Dalia Hashad, an attorney for the ACLU, told The Washington Post:
"It's the very least they can do, and it's not much. It's a racist, ineffective and discriminatory process ... It's an excuse to round up Arab and South Asian men and throw them out of the country."
And indeed, a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicates that deportations to Muslim nations has soared, "even as it eased up on illegal immigrants from Mexico and other countries." Deportations for citizens of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen increased 148 percent last year, while deportations to Mexico declined by 24 percent, and expulsions overall dropped 18 percent.
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Jan. 11 — Yesterday was the second "special registration" deadline, this one for immigrants from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Reports were that fewer were registering because of legitimate fears of being deported, and thus fewer were being detained. Prior to yesterday's registration, the Seattle Times was told that there were 47 individuals currently being detained in the United States.
Protests have been occurring across the country, as well as numerous meetings between Arab and Muslim Americans and government representatives. Concerns continue to be raised about the policy; The Miami Herald reported that Senators Feingold (D-Wis.) and Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Representative Conyers (D-Mich.) have "asked the Department of Justice to suspend the program until Congress can review it." As of yesterday, that had not occurred. An op-ed from LA Weekly points out the discongruity between President Bush's appeal to Iranians via the airways and his treatment of them via the law.
The Washington Post doubts the "efficacy" of the program, asking, "What will the INS learn and how will the information be used?" On Thursday, a federal judge declined to prohibit detentions and deportations arising from the registrations. Many Pakistanis, who, along with Saudis, have a Feb. 21 deadline to register, are fleeing to Canada.
Dec. 31 — Sample scenarios from the Alliance of Iranian Americans show the possible absurdity of this registration order. For instance, a one-year-old Jewish child who is born in Iran but moved to Israel and becomes an Israeli citizen, then to the United States with an Israeli passport must register. A child born in the United Kingdom to Iranian-born parents, because he is eligible for an Iranian passport (whether or not he has it) would also be required to register. The only exceptions are individuals who have passed through the US criminal justice system (such as parolees) and those who have been granted asylum within the United States.
The Justice Department continues to put forth the view that the registration order is in the best interest of national security. In an article from the Associated Press, a spokesman said, "We're doing what the American people want us to do and we're doing what the law wants us to do. What are our critics going to say when the next building blows up? That we didn't check on the background of individuals?" Yet an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times points out that the current registration order would not have captured Mohamed Atta, Egyptian-born; Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen; or Richard Reid, who was from the United Kingdom. As such, the author writes:
"The ineffective and chaotic manner in which the program is being implemented is an indication that neither the Justice Department nor the INS believes it to be important to national security."
And an author from The American Prospect believes the system is actually undermining national security:
"It is a policy in local and state police departments across the country not to enforce civil-immigration law because they want immigrants to be forthcoming about crimes — such as homicide. It is even the official legal opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice that local and state police do not have the inherent authority to enforce civil-immigration law. Or at least it was until Attorney General John Ashcroft started changing the law."
(British Broadcasting Corp.)
More stories are surfacing about the individuals caught in these detentions, including many high-tech workers in California. An article from the Times on the same day describes the ordeal of Tony Sahlepour, an Iranian-American computer salesman:
"He was shuttled between cells in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Lancaster, strip searched, chained to three other men and finally dumped at a train station in the high desert three days after he willingly appeared at an INS office to register, as required."
Dec. 25 — The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Attorney General John Ashcroft have been sued in a class-action suit filed in a central California district court. The suit, whose plaintiffs are four detainees and two individuals afraid to register because of the detentions, claim the arrests and deportations were illegal on a variety of fronts. From UPI's report:
"The Muslim advocacy groups are seeking: 1. An injunction ordering the government not to arrest any additional persons in the 'special registration' process without appropriate arrest warrants as required by existing federal laws; 2. An injunction preventing the deportation of detainees who have avenues available to legalize their status; and 3. An injunction requiring that the INS not hold detainees without bond or bond hearings if the detainees have a mechanism to legalize their status.
CNN reported yesterday that in addition to the six individuals, plaintiffs also include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Alliance of Iranian-Americans, Council on American Islamic Relations and the National Council of Pakistani Americans. Their legal foundation is that "the arrests were illegal because the government did not have warrants, that it is unlawful to arrest and deport people who are eligible to apply for permanent status, and some detainees were already pursuing legal residency." The Justice Department has a policy of not responding to pending litigation, a spokesperson said, and the INS did not return calls.
Quoted in an article from Agence France-Presse, the coalition stated:
"The effort to deport law-abiding people who could just as easily be allowed to continue the immigration process seriously undermines prospects for future compliance and constitutes an absurd waste of resources."
According to Reuters, "about 20" were still being held in Los Angeles, with "a handful" in other parts of the state. Arrests were reported across the country, but no media attention has focused on them. An analysis of the situation in the Boston Globe indicates that the mass arrests are emblematic for the trouble the Immigration and Naturalization Service faces in tracking people, writing that "detention was a harsh and ironic fate for people who were trying to obey the law by registering with INS":
"Immigration lawyers ... said the program has not resulted in mass detentions or deportation orders. But it has contributed to a series of problems that will make it difficult for the federal government to accomplish its goal of instituting a better tracking system. 'Why would we be saying, "Come in and register," and then turning around and whacking them with a stick when they do?' asked Jean Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 'It chills the entire community. It frightens people.' "
Dec. 20 — After arresting hundreds of immigrants in California, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has said today that they will begin releasing detained individuals. They have not yet reported an official number of detainees, but immigration lawyers told the New York Times in their recent report the INS had informed them that "virtually all of those still held would be released in the next 24 hours, with instructions to report back in 30 to 60 days to complete the registration process." Most of the men and boys were required to post bail, usually about $1,000, though some were waived. Reports from various sources indicate that the INS offices were not equipped to handle the flood of individuals 16 and over who voluntarily reported under a law passed after Sept. 11, 2001, intended to catch potential terrorists. The agency is currently in the midst of a huge overhaul that involves spinning off the immigration services unit into the new Department of Homeland Security and a separate immigration enforcement bureau within the Department of Justice.
Iranians, who have a large presence in the Los Angeles area, are a high proportion of the total number. The Washington Post writes that lawyers for the detainees say that there are as many as 500 Iranians, but INS officials in Washington dispute this number. While reports have focused primarily on southern California, the registration order was in effect for the entire country, and the Post reports that arrests have been made "from Houston to Cleveland to Washington," according to the INS.
According to the BBC, a coalition of nine civil liberties groups are calling on the US government to scrap the registration program entirely and cancel future registration dates, and a UPI report confirms this. In addition to the follow-up visits indicated in the Times article, immigrants from 13 other nations have a January registration deadline. The coalition, which called the process "flawed and misguided" said that if the US continues, it will have "damaged America's global image." According to a Fox News report from Wednesday, "countries will continue to be added to the [registration] list until all foreign nationals are required to register with the INS when they come in and out of the United States."
A report late yesterday from Reuters described the conditions in the detention centers:
"Hundreds of Muslim men and boys are being subjected to strip searches in freezing, standing room only detention centers in southern California after being arrested for routine visa irregularities, immigration lawyers said on Thursday. They estimated that between 1,000 and 2,500 males, some as young as 16, were spending their fourth day locked up in what they called inhumane conditions after voluntarily presenting themselves at immigration offices to register under new anti-terrorism rules."
Earlier this week, the San Diego Union-Tribune explained that the detentions had caught many immigrants and their lawyers off guard, who said that "the INS had changed its established practice of not detaining people until their green card applications were processed." Several media reports indicated that individuals were detained despite pending visa renewals.
Dec. 19 — News agencies are reporting that hundreds of men and boys who immigrated from Middle Eastern nations have been detained in Southern California after they were required to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS has refused to give the exact number of the male individuals 16 and older from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, who were required to visit the INS under a law passed following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Men from 13 other nations in the Mideast and North Africa, as well as North Korea, must register in January.
From the Los Angeles Times:
"Many of those arrested, according to their lawyers, had already applied for green cards and, in some instances, had interviews scheduled in the near future. Although they had overstayed their visas, attorneys argue, their clients had already taken steps to remedy the situation and were following the regulations closely."
Sabiha Khan, a representative from the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, told the BBC that "Terrorists most likely wouldn't come to the INS to register ... [detainees are] being treated as criminals, and that really goes against American ideals of fairness, and justice and democracy."
The Associated Press reports that in response, thousands of people have rallied in opposition to the detentions in the Los Angeles area:
"Many demonstrators claimed their husbands, sons and brothers were victims of government entrapment, that they were forced to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then were arrested for not having their papers in order, which in some cases were caused by government backlog."
According to a report from Reuters, local jails have become so overcrowded that "the immigrants could be sent to Arizona, where they could face weeks or months in prisons awaiting hearings before immigration judges or deportation." The Times article includes this description of the detentions:
"[C]rowded cells with some [lawyers'] clients forced to rest standing up, some shackled and moved to other locations in the night, frigid conditions in jail cells — all for men with no known criminal histories ... [some] were hosed down with cold water before finding places to sleep on the concrete floors of cells."