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Expressing Outrage At Registration

by Cyrus D. Mehta

The first deadline under the Special Registration Rule was on December 16, 2002, for males from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan. A subsequent January 10 deadline applies to nationals from thirteen more countries and a February 21 deadline to nationals from another two countries. For further details, see DOJ Continues To Expand Scope Of Special Alien Registration Program.

In the first round on December 16, there were reports of men being separated from their families and jailed for minor immigration violations. Some have been asked to empty their wallets. Credit cards, bank account numbers and video rental card numbers have been recorded by INS officials. Even relatives’ contact information has been requested.

Men who had applications for adjustment of status pending, which confers legal status, were reportedly arrested because of past visa violations. There is absolutely no basis to arrest a non-citizen who has applied for adjustment of status, unless that individual was not in the first place eligible to file such an application.

An article from the Times of London (“Hundreds Held In US Round-Up Of Immigrants,” December 20, 2002) reports that the largest number of detentions, estimated by witnesses as exceeding 500, were in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange county in California, an area with many Iranian exiles. The article relying on “legal sources” states that the “problem in Southern California was because a new acting immigration chief was terrified of seeing his career ruined if he released the wrong person.”

Although public officials have a tendency to err on the side of caution and would rather risk curbing an individual’s liberty than be blamed for the next terrorist attack, such a measure is shortsighted. The public official should look at how history would judge him or her. Is it preferable for the public official to get a temporary pat on the back for doing a good job in arresting innocent non-citizens today but being condemned later generation after generation for being part of a disgraceful government dragnet?

Everybody universally condemns the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor in 1942. General DeWitt’s Military Proclamations that led to the exclusion of Japanese Americans in World War II from their homes on the West coast will forever be derided. None of the 120,000 interned were even charged or convicted for being saboteurs. According to an American Immigration Lawyers Association statement opposing Registration: “How likely is it that terrorists would seek to register and self-identify? Call-in registration offers us little protection because it targets people based on national origin, race and religion, rather than on intelligence information, and alienates the very communities whose cooperation we need.”

People aspire for high public office so that they be remembered by their good actions. Our public officials including President Bush, Attorney General Ashcroft and all those under them, should weigh how history would judge their actions against non-citizens since September 11, 2001. Their actions have already been roundly criticized by human rights and immigrants’ advocacy groups as well as sections of the media. Even the Canadian government has blasted the Special Alien Registration Program.

While the American people might presently support such measures against non-citizens, public opinion is fickle and can change like the fashion of the season. History will be the ultimate judge of their actions. Canada’s top fiction writer, Indian-born Rohinton Mistry, has announced that he will no longer come to the US because he did not want to be profiled each time he boarded an airplane in this country. A well-known Iranian film director was not issued a visa to attend the screening of his film at the prestigious New York film festival in September 2002. If people stop coming to the US, America will only be the loser as it will be robbed of much diversity and cultural richness. But the real losers will be the public officials who cast dragnets against people solely because of their nationalities, without regard to individualized guilt or suspicion. Like Palmer, DeWitt and McCarthy, today’s public officials in charge of dragnets against non-citizens solely based on nationality may also be consigned to the dustbin of history.

About The Author

Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City. He is First Vice Chair of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award. He is also Chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-425-0555 or

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