WASHINGTON – Area advocacy groups said they will closely monitor the Immigration and Naturalization Service beginning Monday, when certain Pakistani and Saudi nationals will be required to report for “special registration.”
Groups like the Pakistan Association of Greater Washington are sponsoring informational forums and INS legal clinics in an effort to avoid situations like on in Los Angeles, where scores of legal Iranians were detained last month when they came to register.
“We are Americans and it is in our interests to make sure we are safe from terrorists,” said Jamshed Ubbal, treasurer of the Pakistani association. “But on the other side we want this process done fairly, effectively and nondiscriminatory.”
The Baltimore INS office has no idea how many Pakistanis and Saudis to expect from the call-in, said office spokesman Chris Bentley, but the 2000 Census said there were 7,183 Pakistanis in the state. The census did not break down the Saudi population.
But Bentley said the office has adequate resources, has made all of the necessary preparations and that previous call-ins have “went smoothly.”
“The vast majority of employees, if not all, have been trained to handle special registration,” Bentley said.
But the American Immigration Lawyers Association said that some people who registered at the Baltimore INS office, for example, had their attorneys barred from their interviews or did not have their appearance properly recorded by officials. There were also some reports of credit card numbers being requested and taken down.
This week’s call-in is the third by the INS, which in two previous rounds required citizens or nationals from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria to register.
The third round of call-ins is requiring Pakistani and Saudi men to come in before Feb. 21.
Men from those countries who are 16 and older and who entered the United States on or before Sept. 30, 2002, must be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. They must also report to the INS once a year or when they move, change jobs, change schools or exit and enter the country.
The process was implemented by Attorney General John Ashcroft with the goal of having all foreign nationals fingerprinted and on file by 2004.
“The special registration program that the U.S. government has put into place is a misguided attempt to increase our nation’s security,” said Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which wants to repeal the program.
“Our nation will not be made more secure by requiring innocent immigrants to report to INS offices to register, only to find themselves subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, abuse and possible deportation,” she said.
Butterfield said that the registration process is “deeply flawed.” She said that there are not enough properly trained staff members at INS offices and that foreign nationals have not been sufficiently educated about the program.
“Those who reported late after hearing about the program through news reports, friends and lawyers, have been detained and told that they are being punished for reporting after the deadline,” Butterfield said.
A special notice about the registration went out to all Saudi students in this country, said Nail Al-Jubeir, spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Videotapes informing people of their legal rights when they go into an INS office are also being distributed.
The Pakistani Embassy has held meetings across the country on the special registration process and will have embassy officers posted at the Baltimore district office.
“This (special registration) doesn’t jive well,” said Asad Hayauddin, spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy. “On one side, the U.S. is calling us an ally and on the other we are required to register.”
He called the INS actions “discriminatory” and said the embassy has filed complaints with Justice, State and other departments, noting that except for North Korea, the affected countries are mostly Muslim.
“This doesn’t help the U.S. winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim communities and Pakistanis as a whole,” Hayauddin said.