CBSN

Critics: U.S. Mum On Migrant Lists

Visa justice department Qatar immigration
CBS/AP
Immigrant advocates and attorneys say the government has failed to adequately notify men from mostly Middle Eastern countries that they must meet upcoming deadlines to reregister with federal authorities.

Under a special registration program last year, men ages 16 and older from 25 Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries were required to report to Immigration and Naturalization Service offices for photographing, fingerprinting and interviews.

Between last November and April, more than 83,500 men walked into immigration offices to register, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The government says the program is a way to track men from countries with an active al Qaeda presence or other terrorist organizations considered threats to the United States.

But many of the men may not know they have to reregister within 10 days of the anniversary of the date they first registered, advocates said. Those who fail to do so could be deported.

"I am concerned that the government appears to have made zero effort to let people know that they have this obligation," said Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's immigrants rights project. "It would appear that the government is more interested in trapping unwary immigrants than in actually communicating information about the obligation to reregister."

Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said men were given information packets when they first registered, telling them they had to reregister after one year.

"People who are visiting the United States have a responsibility to maintain their status and to know what they're required to do to maintain their status," Strassberger said.

But Guttentag said many are confused about the re-registration requirements. For example, some immigration attorneys are still trying to determine when men must reregister if they left the country and then registered again at a port of entry. Others said their clients never received the information packets.

"There's a big information hole where people who were subject to that first go-around don't necessarily know that they're supposed to come back in a year's time," said Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Complicating matters is the fact that immigrants registered in four waves.

In December 2002, concerned males from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria were told to sign in. A Feb. 7, 2003 deadline affected men from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

By Mar. 21, men and boys from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were to register. And long-term visitors to the United States from Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Bangladesh had until April 25 to check in.

Some groups are making their own efforts to remind men. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the National Council of Pakistani Americans sent e-mail alerts to people last week and the ACLU posted guidelines on its site this week. It also plans to send a letter to officials asking them to publicize and clarify the re-registration requirements.

"We're working really hard to get the message out," said Anti-Discrimination Committee spokeswoman Laila Al-Qatami. "We've already had a lot of questions, a lot of confusion. We're a bit apprehensive."

During the initial registrations last year, a few hundred Southern California men from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria were detained for suspected violations of criminal or immigration laws, provoking fierce protests. In other parts of the country, some said they had to wait for hours before registering.

Nationwide, about 13,800 men were placed into deportation proceedings after they registered because officials believed they were living in the United States illegally. Of those, 2,870 were temporarily detained and 23 were still in custody as of Sept. 30, Strassberger said.

Butterfield said the program is "misguided" and will probably not make the country any safer.

"Anybody who intended to do us harm is not going to show up and be fingerprinted and photographed," she said.

Immigration advocates also question the program's emphasis on Muslim countries. Of the 25 countries whose nationals were required to register, only one, North Korea, is not predominantly Muslim.

The Justice Department counters that many European countries operate similar registration programs.

The registrations are part of the new National Security Entry and Exit Registration System, which was required by the USA Patriot act passed shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks.