Dec 2 2003: Civil Liberties & National Special Registration Updates
National Immigration Forum
Changes in Immigrant Registration Program Welcomed, But Incomplete Failed Program Should be Scrapped
Washington, DC - Today, the National Immigration Forum praised the announcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that some of the provisions of the so-called "Special Registration" program for foreign visitors would be rolled back. About one year ago, the government began interviewing, fingerprinting, and photographing foreign male visitors from 25 mostly Muslim and Arab countries under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or "NSEERS." The "call-in" portion of the program applied to individuals already in the country and a separate registration program applied to some entering and exiting the country. All these individuals were required to be re-interviewed, re-fingerprinted, and re-photographed after 30 or 40 days (depending on whether they were here already or were entering) and again after one year. With annual re-registration deadlines for "call-in" registrants starting in early November 2003, Asa Hutchison, Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, announced today at a Washington press conference that 30-day, 40-day, and one year re-registration requirements under the program would be suspended.
"This is the first sign that the Department of Homeland Security may be coming to its senses when it comes to fighting terrorism," said Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum. "Rather than using scarce enforcement resources in a scattershot approach targeting newcomers, they appear to be changing course in a more constructive direction. They need to do more to address specific threats and examine specific individuals while transitioning away from the sweeping policies that have proven ineffective and worse, counterproductive."
The policy calling for "Special Registration" was initiated by the Justice Department when it ran immigration and related government functions. The Department of Homeland Security was obliged to carry out the program once it took over most immigration-related functions in March 2003. DHS made it clear that those who have violated the registration and re-registration requirements of the program up to the date the new policy is published in the Federal Register, (presumably later this week) would still face prosecution, detention, and/or deportation.
Over the past year, more than 83,000 men came forward to register with the government with some 13,000 of those placed in deportation proceedings because of visa violations or minor technicalities. Not one of the men who registered or who have been targeted for deportation has been shown to be linked to terrorism.
"This was a poorly conceived and poorly executed program from the outset," Kelley said. "By targeting people based on religion and national origin, the government did much harm than good in the fight against terrorism. They netted zero terrorists, sowed mistrust and fear in Arab and Muslim communities, made communities less willing to come forward with useful information, broke up thousands of families in America, and, by their own admission, diverted personnel from fighting terrorism to processing useless paperwork. It was all a major setback in making the country safer and Mr. Hutchison is correct in stepping in to try to improve the nonsensical policies he inherited when he came to the Department."
Registration of male non-citizens from the same 25 countries under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or "NSEERS," and other individuals will continue at selected ports of entry and departure from the United States. In January, a new entry-exit registration system (Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology System or "US-VISIT") will begin. Once fully implemented, US-VISIT will register all non-citizen visitors to the United States, regardless of national origin or religion. It will be phased in during 2004, but details of how it will be phased in and how the program will relate to on-going requirements of NSEERS remain sketchy.
"From the beginning, the approach of the Justice Department was to throw up so many poorly publicized and confusing regulatory hurdles that almost any non-citizen could be in violation and become deportable," Kelley said. "The casualties of this approach are spread far and wide, and many, frankly, will not be addressed by this new announcement. However, if this signals a new approach by the Department of Homeland Security that resources will be deployed to ensnare real terrorists - not just trip up all foreigners - then this is a positive development."
Based in Washington, D.C., the National Immigration Forum's mission is to embrace and uphold America's tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and that are fair and supportive to newcomers in our country.
50 F Street, NW, Suite 300 Washington, DC 20001
Documents from the U.S. Government:
· American Civil Liberties Union
· U.S. to End Registration Program, Associated Press, December 2, 2003
· Government ends foreign registration program, Knight Ridder Newspapers, By Shannon McCaffrey, December 1, 2003
· Registration Was Aimed Mainly At Middle East Men, Newsday.com, By Bart Jones
· U.S. ends special registration for Mideast visitors, Cox News Service, By Julia Malone, December 2, 2003
Shoba Sivaprasad, Esq.