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Start of Special Registration Has Disturbing Echoes Of Past National Origin Dragnets

by Carl R. Baldwin

The December 16 deadline for Special Registration for male nonimmigrants over age 16 from five Muslim countries had disturbing echoes of one of our worst moments as a nation: the dragnet arrests and detentions of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

Then and now, the governmental rationale and justification is war, which a lawyer once referred to as “that three-letter word.” We now all acknowledge that the policy and practice with respect to the Japanese-Americans was a national disgrace, and we eventually paid modest but important symbolic reparations to the victims and their survivors. That will not happen here for several reasons. First, because those affected are nonimmigrants, not U.S. citizens, and those who are out of status have neither friends nor a constituency. Second, because out of status nonimmigrants will not be detained for four years, as were the Japanese-Americans, but for as long as the Attorney General says (which may be for a long time but probably not for four years), and then removed. The bitter irony is that the program is designed to trap terrorists, yet common sense tells us that a real terrorist would not dream of doing anything so law-abiding as complying with a government requirement. Those who stood in line for hours to register on December 16 were people who wished to comply with the immigration law. Those whose “papers were not in order” had the shocking experience of being handcuffed--so many of them that the INS office in Los Angeles ran out of plastic handcuffs--and then turned over to the INS for removal.

What the process really felt like to a citizen-observer was well expressed by immigration attorney Jacqueline Baronian: “When you’re in this room and everybody around you is a Middle Eastern man, it really sinks in. It looks like people are being rounded up, and it is very, very disturbing.” (It is unfortunate that Ms. Baronian’s remarks were not included in the internet version of the New York Times article that appeared December 16, 2002, A20.)

Have the terrorists already won, if we are adopting policies and practices that bring out the worst in us, not the best?

About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at

He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," Allworth Press, 2002. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered online from Allsworth Press at:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.