Under the new INS registration program instituted earlier this year, male citizens above the age of 16 from a number of Muslim countries (and North Korea) have to register with the INS. Can you explain the procedure and also the implications of this in the long-term?
The latest in the government's series of ill-conceived and discriminatory policies is the implementation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. The Department of Justice has issued four notices since November requiring all nonimmigrant men over the age of 16 who are from a list of 25 Muslim countries and North Korea and Eritrea to register in person at special Immigration and Naturalization Service offices before certain deadlines and to check in regularly with the government every year thereafter. This amounts to blatant racial and religious profiling and was quickly shown to be nothing more than a pretext for a second wave of roundups and detention of Arab, Muslim and South Asian men and teens.
Thus far, the Special Call-In Registration has been nothing short of a disaster. The INS announced these new requirements in confusing and complicated notices in the Federal Registry. Officials did not appropriately or adequately publicize the new requirements and did not immediately translate the notices into all appropriate languages. The registration proposal was so haphazardly initiated that it did not allow enough time for individuals to learn of the requirements and register. The INS did not even bother to provide a registration facility in every state. It is under these circumstances that officials set the restrictive deadline for registration at one month.
We believe that the Department of Justice and the INS never provided appropriate advertisement, translation or means to register because their goal is not actually to register people. Instead, we believe the government's goal is to take people who are in good status and through no fault of their own, make them deportable; all because these people were born into certain religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Hundreds of men and boys who voluntarily came to INS facilities to register have been arrested, detained and mistreated. Stories of these abuses sent waves of terror through the targeted communities and prevented many people who would have registered from coming in. Now these men and boys -- even those who were in otherwise perfect status -- are technically deportable. The INS should have certainly anticipated this problem and done everything in its power to prevent it from happening in the first place.
This racial profiling is dangerous to our democracy. We have been calling on all citizens of conscience to register their discontent. The Department of Justice and the INS need to know that the broader American public understands and strenuously objects to what is happening with immigrant communities.
These registration schemes are not making us any safer. They do nothing but damage our reputation as a freedom-loving society and a land welcoming of immigrants. Our government must stop wasting precious resources engaging in discriminatory roundups. By design, the Special Call-In Registration scheme is wrong and fundamentally un-American.
There has been some talk about how the INS hopes eventually to extend this mandatory registration to all non-citizens/permanent residents. That is, all people who have a visa for the US will be required to register with the INS by December 2005. Is this correct?
Yes this is what they say.
It is clear that the first 25 countries were targeted on the basis of religion. I think that much is evident. Keep in mind that there are thousands and thousands of people from Europe running around with the exact same visa violations as there are Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who have been arrested, detained and deported after September 11th, and there is no special focus on finding them. There were of course people detained from these countries, but certainly not comparable to what happened in the Muslim, Arab or South Asian communities.
Is the INS legally allowed to interrogate people when they come in to register? They also take copies of all bank cards and credit cards. Is this legally permissible?
They have been interrogating people and taking copies of credit and bank cards. Some people had their Blockbuster cards copied! So what some attorneys started doing was advising their clients not to take their credit cards with them. But people were sent back home to get their financial information. The financial information of these people coming to register is not the business of the INS. These people have the right to keep their financial information private. Furthermore, to say that Special Registration is apprehending terrorists does not make logical sense. Everybody knows a terrorist will not stand in line to hand over his financial information and to answer these questions. And yet the INS asks ridiculous questions of the people who actually go to register. People have even been asked, "Are you a terrorist?"
Other questions that the government has been asking of people show absolutely no respect for or understanding of these communities, and a shockingly immature knowledge of terrorism: questions like how many times a day they pray, how often they go to the mosque, and how religious they are. This is not the business of government in a free society, and it has nothing to do with preventing terrorist crimes.
Even if the present Administration is voted out of power, will it not be very difficult to reverse the legislation that has already been approved?
Precisely, and this is a very important point that we must think about. What the present Administration is doing now destroys in minutes, hours, days and months, rights that took generations to establish. We may not get them back for many, many years, if we get them back at all. These are serious and fundamental losses that change the very character of America in a way that most Americans oppose. The Administration must reconsider the path they are taking us down and realize that it is possible for us to be both safe and free.
* The name in full is: the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of Asia Society.