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Attack on America - Immigration Update
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

Amid all the calls for unifying different government databases and providing consular officers with access to them, political experts observe that federal agencies have historically resisted such measures and that previous efforts to increase information sharing have met with failure. For example, the State Department used to have free access to FBI databases, but in 1990, the Justice Department, which controls the FBI, ruled that because the State Department was not a law enforcement agency, it could no longer have free access. Access was restored in 1993, but limited only to those seeking immigrant visas and the program was again terminated in 1998. Even now, the proposals for information sharing are fairly limited.


According to the Miami Herald, Mohamed Atta, the man officials believe was the leader of the September 11th attacks, was nearly denied entry to the US earlier this year. An INS inspector at the Miami International Airport became suspicious after Atta, who was seeking entry on a tourist visa, said that he wanted to take flight lessons. After about an hour of questioning, Atta was allowed to enter the US. Officials did not notice that he had previously overstayed a visa. This was the third time Atta had come to the attention of officials. Last December he and another suspected hijacker were questioned by the Federal Aviation Administration after abandoning a private plane on a runway in Miami. In May, a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear for a hearing on a traffic ticket. The INS denies that it mishandled Atta, saying that the Herald report was incorrect. The agency says that Atta did not have previous status violations, and that although he was seeking to enter on a tourist visa, he had a pending application for a student visa. Moreover, the INS added in a published statement, at the time of his entry Atta was not linked to any terrorist organization.


Officials believe that no more than ten of the roughly 800 people detained in connection with the investigation into the September 11th attacks were actually involved in the plot. While the FBI has reached some conclusions, including that only the four planes that crashed were targeted, the investigation is stalling because none of the suspects in custody are cooperating. Investigators believe that while few of those detained had any connection to the planning of September 11th, some of those detained do have links to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden. They believe that at least three detainees were involved in a plot to bomb a US airbase in Turkey last year.


New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen has joined those publicly calling for a unified North American security perimeter. While there are no details yet for the form such a perimeter would take, those who support the idea say that it is necessary to provide an appropriate level of security and at the same time, ensure that traffic between the US and Canada is not negatively impacted. Gov. Shaheen said that the idea was discussed at a recent meeting she had with Canadian government officials. While Canadian officials generally support the idea of improved security, they are hesitant to support any plan that would force them to change their immigration policies, especially with regard to refugees.


The New York Attorney General’s office is investigating complaints by day laborers working to clean up the World Trade Center disaster site that they are not being paid. The laborers, many of whom are immigrants, some undocumented, make up the vast majority of those working in the clean-up effort. The complaints first surfaced when a state safety inspector came to discuss safety precautions, prompting the Attorney General’s office to become involved. The subcontractor responsible for paying the workers said payment had been delayed because of paperwork problems, but that all the workers would be paid what they were promised.


The Attorney General of South Carolina recently offered the services of state law enforcement personnel to the INS. In a letter to US Attorney General John Ashcroft, Charlie Condon became the first state employee to make such an offer since the September 11th terrorist attacks. In 1996, Congress created a system whereby state law enforcement agents could be deputized by the INS, but the provision has never been used. Many are suspicious of such involvement, noting that state law enforcement agents are not trained in immigration law. Generally, most police departments, especially in areas with large immigrant populations, are under self-issued directives to not get involved in immigration matters, primarily to make immigrants more comfortable with reporting crimes.


A student at Grossmont College in San Diego, California, is the second person to be charged in connection with the terrorist investigation, although officials do not believe that he was directly connected to the attacks. Osama Awadallah, a citizen of Jordan and permanent resident of the US, was charged with making false statements to a grand jury. According to prosecutors, Awadallah’s claim that he never met two of the alleged hijackers was a lie. Awadallah has been in custody as a material witness since his arrest on September 21. His attorney says that Awadallah never lied to investigators, but was only confused during his many days of questioning. Bail was denied on the basis that Awadallah is a flight risk. Officials say that further evidence against him include a slip of paper with his phone number on it in a car used by one of the suspected hijackers and his possession of a razor blade alleged to be similar to the box cutters used by the hijackers.


As support for reviving Section 110, the entry-exit tracking system, grows, business groups, who were among those urging Congress to set aside the provision, saying it would cripple cross border trade and traffic, are calling for the US and Canada to hold talks on security in the two countries. About 50 business associations and individual companies have formed the Coalition for a Secure and Trade Efficient Border, in hopes of helping to create a program that would both enhance border security and ensure trade is not hindered. While the Canadian government has generally opposed the idea of a security perimeter, at the recent summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Prime Minister Jean Chretien agreed to a suggestion from Mexican President Vicente Fox that the three countries in the North American Free Trade Agreement meet to discuss border security issues.


As the investigation into the terrorist attacks continues, some of those detained for long periods of time are finally being released, and their stories have many civil rights advocates concerned. A number of both immigrants and their attorneys claim that immigrants from the Middle East are being singled out for detention and are being held for weeks without the opportunity to post bond. Some, such as Raaed Shawabkeh, originally from Jordan, say that throughout their weeks of detention they were not even questioned by FBI agents. The American Immigration Lawyers Association says that while attorneys are reporting cases of Middle Eastern immigrants being singled out, there is no pattern of deliberate discrimination. Agency policy prevents the INS from discussing individual cases, but spokespeople for the agency say that rules on posting bond have not changed.


A recent report from Michigan state police calling Detroit a “major financial support center for many Middle East terrorist groups” has upset the large Arab-American community in the area. The report, which was presented to the Michigan legislature last week and obtained by a number of news organizations, alleges that there are 374 possible “threat elements” in the state, many of which are not foreign in nature, but are domestic militia groups. State police say that the report was not intended to be made public, and was designed to help the legislature obtain federal funding for terror response programs. Despite that, many Arab-Americans in the area are concerned that the report will increase sentiment against them. Rep. David Bonior (D-MI), whose district covers much of the area, has called the report a “character assassination of a community” and vowed to discover whether there is any hard evidence to back up the allegations in the report.


This week one of the people detained in connection with the terrorist investigation died while in custody. According to officials, Mohammed Rafiq Butt, an undocumented immigrant from Pakistan, died of heart failure in his cell. According to law enforcement officials, Butt had no information on the attacks, and had agreed to return to Pakistan. Buttt, like many undocumented immigrants, had entered the US on a tourist visa and had remained beyond his authorized period of entry. He had been in detention for more than a month at the time of his death.

About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at