American Muslims welcome partial end
of registration program
December 1, 2003: The American Muslim organizations today welcomed the Bush administration's decision to partially end special registration program that primarily targeted men from 24 other Muslim countries and drew protests from ethnic and civil liberties groups.
The Homeland Security Department's for Border and Transportation Security, Asa Hutchinson, said today that the Special Registration program will end as of December 2 (today). However, people from the 24 Muslim countries still will be required to register when they enter the country and must check in at immigration offices at specific airports when they leave.
Ms. Samina Faheem Sundas, the American Muslim Voice Executive Director, while welcoming the government’s decision to end the special registration program, said that the decision will no doubt bring relief to thousands of people. ““ I welcome the end of the registration program which is the first step in the right direction. To complete the circle of justice we must do the following: 1). All special registration detainees must be released. 2). This program has destroyed people’s future and interrupted their education. We must help them reestablish by granting them visas to rectify our mistakes. 3). All those who have already been deported must be given visa to reunite with their families.
According to official sources, out of 83,519 people who went for the special registration in the first round that started in November last year, 2,870 were detained while about 14,000 face deportation for minor visa violations.
Mr. Nihad Awad, the Executive Director of the Council of American-Islamic Affairs said “we appreciate the government's decision to eliminate the special registration program, which has done little to promote security and has alienated thousands of law-abiding visitors to our nation.” Any new screening procedures should not be based on religion, ethnicity or national origin, but instead reflect the American values of equal justice and religious freedom, he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that contended the registration infringed on the rights of law-abiding citizens welcomed its end but tempered its response with warnings that the requirement already had caused damage in Arab and Muslim communities and that the government still has rules in place that discriminate against those groups. "There's more that would have to be done to right this wrong, but it is one step toward making the program less discriminatory in the future," said Tim Edgar, the ACLU legislative counsel.
It may be pointed out that in June last, the AMV, along with several other civil rights groups, initiated an intensive campaign against the Special registration with a demonstration in San Francisco against the possible deportation of 14,000 people who went for registration. The AMV officials also met with congressmen urging them to demand an end to the registration program that is discriminatory, unjust and unfair. A campaign to write letters to congressmen in this respect was also launched.
On Nov. 19th, the AMV, the Blue Triangle Network and Pakistan American Alliance, with the support of 40 other civil rights groups held a rally and press conference outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office in San Francisco against the registration program.
The Registration is part of a program known as National Security Entry Exit Registration System, or NSEERS. It established a national registry for foreign visitors from 24 Muslim countries and North Korea. People from those nations were fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed by U.S. immigration officials. They had to re-register with the government after being in the country for 30 days and again after one year.
The government is expected to start a new program, known as US-VISIT, on Jan. 5 that will digitally photograph and fingerprint millions of people who visit the United States each year on tourist, business and student visas. In August the Homeland Security Department began operating a system to keep track of foreign students, ensuring they remain in school and are registered at their educational institutions.
Serious problems with the Entry & Exit Registration
The special registration program was deeply flawed at its start, both in concept and implementation, and remains deeply flawed today, even with the Dec. 1, 2003 announced suspension of the annual re-registration requirements.
Registration at the border, departure controls, and a “case-by-case” imposition of registration requirements (at DHS’s discretion) continue, with notification for the latter initiative given “in a manner reasonable calculated to reach the alien” to include, surprisingly, notice by publication in the Federal Register.
Important questions remained regarding requirements facing the people included in the point of entry registration system as opposed to the call-in system. All those subject to the Special Registration program will still be required to submit to point of exit interviews, even though DHS offices in airports are not always open, accessible or efficiently managed – this forced travelers to either violate the exit interview requirement or abandon their trip.
Furthermore, these changes do not address the plight of the more than 13,000 already placed in removal proceedings, those who have been refused admission, and others who have been denied benefits because they did not properly register or because our government did not properly note their registration.
Special Registration Has NOT Ended – Many Requirements Continue