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Dear Editor:
This press statement dated December 19, 2002 was issued by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr. regarding the mass arrests of men and youth from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is alarmed and dismayed by reports from the last few days that hundreds of men and youth from mostly Middle Eastern and North African nations have been arrested upon voluntarily reporting to the INS for special registration. We are particularly disturbed because many of those taken into custody have been trying to do the right thing - follow the new registration law while waiting for their pending applications for immigration benefits to be processed. In one shocking example described in an Los Angeles Times December 19 article, a 16-year-old boy was taken from the arms of his mother, a lawful permanent resident, and stepfather, a US citizen. December 16 was the first deadline for nonimmigrants from five countries to register with the INS. Male nationals age 16 and above from 13 additional countries must register by January 10 and nationals from two other countries must register by February 21.

LIRS is deeply concerned by reports that even many who have applied for their green cards are among those who have been arrested. Organizations across the country report that clients are being taken into custody for minor visa violations that occurred many years prior and would not prevent them from becoming US residents. LIRS is also very concerned that men with no criminal history are being detained in crowded cells and inhumane conditions.

LIRS condemns acts of terrorism. However, special registration will not make us safer. The program does not weed out terrorists by relying on intelligence information but instead targets individuals on the basis of national origin. LIRS urges the INS and the Department of Justice to put an end to this Catch-22 situation. If the registration program continues the INS should use prosecutorial discretion and not detain people who are on the road to lawful permanent residence. This measure is an ill-conceived and poorly implemented attempt to solve a real concern about security.

Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service
Baltimore, Maryland