Citizens of some foreign countries who are in the United States, including University students, could face deportation if they do not register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service by Friday.
That is the deadline for the second group of non-immigrant aliens to register with the INS under the newly implemented National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which requires male aliens older than 16 and holding temporary visas to complete a special registration with the INS.
The registration, which must be met by one of three deadlines, began Dec. 16 and ends Feb. 21, and is only applicable to persons from 22 countries – which, except for North Korea, have large Muslim populations. Citizens from Algeria, Lebanon and North Korea are among those who must register by Friday, while Saudis and Pakistanis have until Feb. 21.
Law Prof. Nick Rine said there are hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who do not have proper visas. Of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, three were in the country on expired visas.
“If they are not in a legal status, they can be detained. Detention means they are put in jail. The INS is renting a lot of space right now,” he said, adding that in Michiga non-immigrants are sent to jails in Calhoun or Monroe counties.
INS officials said 400 men were detained in Southern California after the December registration date, but most were released within three days, the Associated Press reported.
Slim Mchela, a finance student who is permitted to study at Eastern Michigan University on educational visa, registered with the INS five weeks before his deadline.
Mchela was required to check in with the INS at the airport on his way home to Tunisia over Winter Break.
“Each time I leave to go to another country, I have to call the immigration officer to come and fingerprint and photograph me,” Mchela said. Although Mchela reported that the INS officers were sympathetic, he said he was initially annoyed by the extra attention he received in the airport.
“At first, it bothered me because I was the only one. The whole plane was waiting for me because I have an Arab name.” Mchela said.
Mchela, like other alien residents and university students, said he was reluctant to speak freely about his feelings regarding the treatment of men from Muslim nations by the U.S. government because of fear of deportation.
“People are afraid to talk about the situation because they fear small remarks could be easily misconstrued as a threat to national security and the INS could take action against them,” said Saad Siddqui, a Business School senior and a Pakistani citizen holding a temporary educational visa.
“Airport security was routine before September 11. Now it’s a hostile atmosphere. The INS has a lot of authority right now so there is a lot of speculation involved in the process of inquisition,” Siddiqui said.
After returning from a vacation in Pakistan Friday, Siddqui said he was delayed more than two hours after being interrogated, fingerprinted and photographed by INS officers.
The officers rifled through his possessions, including his wallet, and even copied his credit card numbers, he added.
Unlike Mchela, Siddiqui noted the heightened level of condescension in the attitudes of the INS officers.
Siddiqui said the officers did not speak rudely to him because he speaks excellent English, but they treated others with poorer English rudely.
LSA sophomore Aly Caverson said she agrees with the registration program because it is important to protect national security since the terrorist attacks.
“I understand that people might say that the United States shouldn’t assume that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch, but we’re just taking precautions,” Caverson said.
Yet many people, including Siddqui, view the registration as blatant discrimination and an invasion of privacy.
Siddiqui said the program and the unprecedented freedom of authority it provides to the INS and FBI are serious encroachments on civil liberties.
“They may not be Americans, but they’re still human beings, and all human beings deserve to be treated with the same fundamental rights of humanity,” he said.
Still, the law distinguishes between the people required to obey the conditions of the registration law and U.S. citizens.
“Non-citizens in his country have much more limited rights than what Americans naturally think of as their civil rights,” Rine said.
A lack of rights and immense INS authority is what is making non-immigrants paranoid and afraid, Siddqui said.
Alexander Azzam, an Ann Arbor immigration attorney, said the registration is simply a milder alternative to the encampment method used to control Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“If I am a terrorist from one of those countries, I will not register. I’m supposed to be underground and I’d avoid detection and the police. It’s unlikely any potential terrorists will show up at registration and say, ‘Hi, I’m here on a fake visa, please arrest me,'” Azzam said.
Siddiqui said the government needs to make the law applicable to non-citizens of all ethnicities in order to create equality under the registration program.
“If you are going to make those groups register, then you should have everyone register, but who’s to say that no one who is a citizen could be a terrorist,” Siddiqui said.
Another alternative to the procedure is to increase precautions at the rudimentary stage and make obtaining a visa harder.
“It’s so difficult to get a United States visa that when you get one, it’s like opening the gates of paradise,” Mchela said. In the end, he said, the registration is an excuse for the government to reduce risk by deporting people.
“I think that what the government is doing to non-citizens is indicative of the narrow-mindedness of the current government,” Rine said.
More than 245 men were detained after the first deadline of Dec. 16, primarily because of technical problems with their INS status.
Government officials defend the procedure, noting three of the 9 hijackers responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks illegally remained in the country on expired visas.