San Francisco Rally against re-registration
of Muslim non-immigrants
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
A rally and press conference was held on November 19, 2003 in San Francisco against the yearly re-registration of non-immigrant men from 24 Muslim countries with the USCIS.
The rally, outside the office of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), was called by the American Muslim Voice, a leading American Muslim organization and about 40 other civil right groups and organizations to protest against the special re-registration that began on November 15th.
The rally was part of the American Muslim Voice campaign against the special registration. Ms. Samina Faheem Sundas, the AMV Executive Director, declared that this is just the beginning of a long and arduous struggle. She said that the special registration has created havoc in the Muslim and Arab communities. “We believe the Special Registration program is racially, ethically and politically biased,” she added.
"This program has created havoc in my community. It's created stress, anger and total despair. And I am outraged," she said. Mass detentions a year ago in Los Angeles thrust the issue into the spotlight for a brief time, but resentment and confusion still linger, said Samina Faheem Sundas. "When the officials announced that they had suspended the program, many people believed that they were no longer required to come back and re-register," she said adding: "That is not true, but it sent a very confusing message.''
"And there are 7 million illegal aliens in the USA,'' Sundas said. "We are not asking that the U.S. send all of them out, but why are they targeting only the Muslims?'' Samina Faheem, who operates a free national hotline on special registration, said she has heard similar concerns from callers around the country. The hotline is based in Palo Alto CA.
Reverend Yoshi from the United Methodist Church reminded the audience that it wasn’t so long ago that Japanese Americans were scapegoated and detained merely because of their nationality. He denounces the detention of 13,000 Middle Eastern immigrants since 9/11: “We need justice now,” he asserted, “not an apology 40 years later!”
Ms. Riva Enteen, Former Program Director of the San Francisco Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, described the re-registration program as unjust and unfair and added that as a Jew I assure Muslims that they are not alone in this struggle.
Dan Spark of Peace & Justice that this is a message to the Muslims that ‘you are not alone, we will stand by you. If you will not be able to speak, we will speak for you.”
“The Special Registration Program is yet another example of the government's policy of targeting immigrants – instead of targeting terrorists,” said Ms. Jayashri Srikantiah, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “The government's practice of targeting men based on ethnicity, religion, or national origin, rather than on any individualized suspicion, creates fear and distrust in the very communities the government should be working with.”
Those who do not comply with the re-registration requirement could face criminal penalties or deportation, said Sharon Rummery, San Francisco spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is handling the process. "If they're still living where they were living when they registered, they should come back to the (immigration) office where they registered, Rummery said. "If they've moved, they should go to the closest office." Green-card holders are exempt from the requirement, Rummery said.
Civil rights advocates said many people are confused about their obligation to register, because immigration officials have failed to provide adequate information to them on what is a confusing process. For example, registrants who have left the country are re-registered on their return, and are not required to report to immigration officials again for a year from that date.
Rummery said that the Immigration officials have not released any new information reminding people of their obligation to register but people who registered in the last year were told they would have to come back, and were given a packet that listed the re-registration requirement.
However, San Francisco immigration attorney Banafsheh Akhlaghi, who represents several people who have gone through the registration process, said that not everyone received the packet. ``People are not aware that they are required to reregister even though they might have gotten a bunch of papers explaining it,'' the American Muslim Voice Executive Director said.
Registrants will need to bring their passport, I-94 and other paperwork associated with their visas, Rummery said. Registrants will again be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed, Rummery said. Those whose visas are expired will be detained. The re-registration process is a shorter, streamlined version, she said: ``It's basically a review.''
Rummery, revealed that as of Oct. 30, 83,519 men had voluntarily reported to immigration offices around the country to be fingerprinted and interviewed. Of those, 13, 799 were put into deportation proceedings, 2,870 were detained, and 143 were arrested on criminal charges, Rummery said. Twenty-three men remained in custody. Rummery said she did not know how many, if any, had been arrested on terrorism or terrorism-related charges.
Rummery said that Muslim countries were not being singled out for increased enforcement but that the countries affected were selected because "that's where al Qaeda and other terror organizations have been active or the U.S. has security concerns.''
But Lawrence Swain, executive director of the Fremont-based Interfaith Freedom Foundation, was not convinced. "I supported (the special registration process) in the beginning, but it soon became clear that it was nothing but a government sting to deport Muslims on technicalities, so eventually I took a position of complete opposition,'' he said.
Larry Swaim characterized the registration process as "a government sting operation to deport as many Muslims as possible." He said Muslim immigrants in the United States are caught in a Catch-22. If they register, the government may deport them on a technicality or other circumstance; if they don't go, they will be considered "out of status" and face possible criminal charges and deportation.
Riva Enteen, the former director of the National Lawyers Guild, called the program impolitic as well as impractical. "It is a farce to think that any potential terrorist would go to the Immigration office and say, 'I'm here,' " she said adding: "They are looking for a needle in a haystack, and all they are doing is piling on more hay.''
``It looks to us like legal entrapment,'' said Banafsheh Akhlaghi, an immigration lawyer from San Francisco who represents dozens of Bay Area men and boys who registered last year and now are facing deportation for having expired visas.
Vice President of the Islamic Society of the East Bay in Fremont, Dr. Mohamad Rajabally, said that there is a concern in the community and the situation is tense. Rajabally, who also serves on Fremont's Human Relations Commission, said he is not sure the process is making the country any safer. "That's really the question," he said. "Is this making us safer? I don't know if it is."
At the press conference, Imad Ahmed, a 20-year-old junior at UC Berkeley, related his ordeal when he went for registration in February this year. He had to wait at the immigration office for five hours and later told that he will be arrested if he failed to return for registration within one year. Imad said: “I would wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats as I feared that I may become one of the men shipped to a detention center, given only 3 hours of sleep on cold concrete floors, racially abused, malnourished and deprived of the right to know how long I would be detained for.” Imad Ahmed said he has drafted a two-page resolution for the student government to pass opposing the special registration process. "As a British Pakistani, I had to register here in February, and it was that experience that really mobilized me against this,'' he said.
The San Francisco protest against the special re-registration was the first of five such events scheduled over the next few months, said Samina Faheem Sundas, AMV Executive Director.