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Special Registration: Spotlight On The Indonesian Community

by Marc Hoffman, MBA, JD

On January 16, 2003 the INS announced that certain categories of Indonesian men will be required to participate in a "Special Registration" by the INS from February 24 through March 28, 2003. At that time they will be photographed, fingerprinted, and required to answer questions before an INS officer. Four other countriesí citizens and nationals must also register with the INS during the same period. Twenty other countries have been called in previous notices. These call-ins are part of the implementation of the new National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). INS is a division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

Indonesians in the US and in Indonesia, other countries, and many groups and individuals in the US have protested these call-ins. Although in the wake of September 11, 2001 a revisiting of immigration policies is in order, it should be possible for the Department of Justice to safeguard American national security while giving individuals and communities sufficient time to adjust to the new policies. While protecting national security, the DOJ should not engage in arbitrary actions, actions which appear discriminatory, or actions which cause consternation or political difficulties for our friends and allies.

1. The Indonesian community

Possibly 85-100,000 Indonesian citizens are living in the United States, not including US citizens of Indonesian origin and US citizen children of Indonesian parents. It is impossible to know precisely how many Indonesians are in the United States. Indonesians in the US are supposed to register with the Indonesian Embassy and Consulates, but often neglect to do so. Approximately 65,000 are currently registered, but the recording system neither accounts for duplicate registrations nor eliminates names of people who have left the United States since registering. Although dual citizenship is not acknowledged by Indonesia, an unknown number of people are citizens of both the US and Indonesia.

The structure of this population is unknown. In certain areas it is thought that the population is predominantly families. In other areas women with children constitute a large part of the population. In areas where Indonesians have been able to obtain employment, the population is thought to be primarily young men.

It is estimated that of 100,000 people, half (50,000) must register and half of those (25,000) have some defect in their immigration status. There is a great need for education, counseling, and humanitarian assistance.

2. Improving the prospects through policy changes

The Indonesian Embassy and others are making efforts to eliminate this registration or mitigate its effects. Other countries affected by these call-ins are active, as are organizations in the United states concerned with immigration, immigrantsí rights, human rights, and foreign policy. Many consider these call-ins discriminatory, because they appear to target countries with Muslim populations. A number of clarifications and alterations of US policy would improve the prospects for the Indonesian community.

The most desired change would be the cancellation of the call-in. News reports have described a US Senate provision which will end funding for the NSEERS program, of which this is a part, until the program can be further evaluated, unless the President declares it necessary for national security. This provision is not in the corresponding House bill, so lobbying might be effective in assisting its survival through Conference Committee and appearance in the final legislation.

Cancellation or modification through direct DOJ action might be available through lobbying and public pressure. The Department of Justice has modified previous policies, eliminating Armenia from the call-ins and reopening registrations that have already closed. Other agencies, such as the State Department and the National Security Council, could be instrumental in persuading DOJ to modify their policies.

INS should further modify their practices, and publicly commit to maintain fair and considerate practices. Some of the worst practices in effect at the beginning (for example, the widely reported arrest of many Iranian men in Los Angeles) appear to have been improved, but this seems to be inconsistent and based on the policy at individual INS offices. Without a public commitment to these fair and considerate practices, the INS is free to go back to some of the early abuses, or to apply practices inconsistently or arbitrarily. Discussion of each of these practices in detail is beyond the scope of this short paper.

Registrants must have the opportunity to have an interpreter and an attorney present if desired. Initially, although the registrants are legally entitled to these services, the INS did not consistently permit them. Reportedly, the situation is now better.

Only violations of immigration regulations that affect national security should trigger investigations and possible deportation. DOJ is conducting this registration system in the name of national security. There is no reason to turn this into a general sweep of the immigrant community to catch people in minor violations.

Violations previously ignored for years by the INS should not suddenly be grounds for expulsion now. Over the years it has been apparent that certain conditions and violations were not high priority in the view of the INS. For example, being Out of Status* while waiting for pending applications to be processed by INS was tolerated and considered the norm, considering the long time that INS took to act. Another common violation involves Indonesian students and others taking part time jobs to make ends meet while here.

Honest disclosure of violations in the registration interview should not result in detention and deportation. INS officers are asking detailed and probing questions about peopleís finances, work, and relations. Registrants must answer under oath and failure to answer even non-material questions completely are grounds for being considered "Out of Status" (and therefore deportable).* To encourage confidence in the system, and confidence that this is a part of a fair and reasonably applied reorganization of the immigration system and not just a raid on the foreign communities, honest answers should be rewarded, and only information considered important to national security should result in referral for investigation.

Violations in the registrantís past should not be grounds for detention and investigation if the individual is now currently in status. People have been detained because of disclosure that they had previously had periods out of status.

People who are out of status because INS hasnít completed paperwork on their pending applications, for example for amnesty under 245I, should not be held and not be required to post bond. People who applied for amnesty are people who are by definition Out of Status. Although waiting for the INS to act on their applications, people who have applied for amnesty are being detained and threatened with deportation for being Out of Status. In many cases individuals have been detained and released on bond. This cumulative financial burden on the Indonesian community of the necessity to post bond will be considerable. Many people will not be able to post bond and will remain in detention.

People should be given the opportunity to clear up honest misunderstandings about their status. Questioning at the recent educational meetings has revealed common misunderstandings about status. In the past these misunderstandings may have been considered inconsequential, resulting in violations that could be cleared up through discussions with the INS. These misunderstandings could now be the cause of detention and deportation.

People should be encouraged to come forward and give complete answers to questions. Knowing that the INS will not immediately refer them for investigation for minor violations will encourage compliance. At the same time, these people will be put on notice that they are not in compliance. They will know that this information is in the hands of the INS and could be acted on at any time. They will therefore be encouraged to remedy the deficiencies they have as soon as possible.

3. Educational, Legal, and Humanitarian Assistance

Indonesians in the United States will need education about this registration, advice about what they should do, legal assistance, assistance in making bond to get out of detention, and assistance returning home. Some men who had been supporting their families by working illegally will have to stop work or leave the country, leaving their families without support.


The Indonesian community should work together and not divide.

This US action has the potential of unifying the Indonesian community and increasing the ability of the community and the Embassy to work together. It would be tragic, however, if in responding to this need the Indonesian community divides and fractures.

The meeting at the Indonesian Embassy on Tuesday, January 21 was remarkable in that the Ambassador emphasized to the community his desire to be of service in ways that the Embassy had never been before. However, lack of budget and organizational capability makes it impossible for him to meet the need for legal aid, humanitarian assistance, and other services requested or demanded by the people attending the meeting. If performance falls short of expectation, or even hope, the community could be further alienated from the Embassy.

In the Washington, DC area religious groups have been first to organize to provide educational and legal services for their communities. Indonesian Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic groups have met to organize such efforts. Muslim groups not based on nationality, such as the Muslim Community Center and Muslim anti-discrimination organizations, had already been organizing because of previous call-ins of predominantly Muslim countries. This quick and concerned response by the religious groups is extremely positive, and these groups should be supported in their efforts. It appears the human, organizational, and financial resources will not be sufficient to take care of all the need. Unfortunately, the contrast between the effectiveness of the religious communities and the absence of any overall Indonesian organizations has the potential to divide the community into competing communal groups, vying for inadequate resources.

Therefore, it would be best if the various groups could remain talking, even if resource sharing is undesirable. A forum should be created in which the representatives of these groups can discuss matters in an egalitarian, round table, environment. A way should be found to assist people not affiliated with religious groups.

Cooperate with other countries

Indonesians typically stick to themselves within their community, but at this time it is more important than ever to cooperate with people of other nationalities to share resources such as legal clinics, educational programs, and lobbying efforts.

Communicate with the larger American community

It is important to communicate with the larger US population so that they understand the devastating effect the registration is having on peopleís lives. As time goes on the call-ins will be less newsworthy. Attention needs to be drawn to them so that the American public can be the allies of the nationals of the affected countries.

This is a problem throughout the United States

Finally, it is important for all members of the Indonesian community to see this as a problem throughout the US. Because of the scarcity of resources there will be a tendency to meet the needs of the people closest by. However, spread out across this country are small communities and individuals who also need support, and they will not get it unless the people in more populous areas are concerned for them and assist them.

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About The Author

Marc Hoffman, MBA, JD has been involved in Indonesian matters for 30 years, including several years in Indonesia working for private companies and Indonesian government agencies in planning, finance, and communication. He is qualified as a simultaneous interpreter between English and the Indonesian language, and is considered to have unusual perception of Indonesian culture based on his practical knowledge of Javanese wayang kulit. He resides in Silver Spring, Maryland and can be reached at:

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

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