US civil rights groups and Muslim leaders slammed a new US anti-terrorism measure under which Middle Eastern men are forced to register with the authorities and be fingerprinted.
They called on Washington to scrap the "flawed and misguided" program aimed at men from the Middle East, North Africa and North Korea following the arrest of scores of immigrants who voluntarily turned up to register under the new rules.
Gisroo Mohajeri, who is more than six-months-pregnant, is comforted by her husband Ali Mohajeri, on the steps of the Federal Building in Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002, after meeting with goverment officials about her son. Gisroo Mohajeri said her 16-year-old Iranian-born son, Hossein Ahmadi, was taken into custoday three days ago when the two came to the Immigration and Naturalization Services to voluntarily register the teenager with immigration officials. Hossein Ahmadi now faces deportation proceedings, she says. Thousands of Iranian-Americans demonstrated Wednesday against the arrest of Middle Eastern immigrants who had voluntarily registered with the federal government under a new anti-terrorism program. (AP Photo/Jean-Marc Bouju)
The Los Angeles Times said Thursday that as many as 500 to 700 men and boys over the age of 16 had been detained in southern California alone when the deadline for the first wave of registrations expired on Monday.
The detentions sparked an angry street protest in Los Angeles on Wednesday by thousands of Iranian-Americans protesting what the branded the unjust detentions of their loved ones.
The head of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Thursday that the crackdown on alleged visa overstayers by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was a breach of civil rights.
The actions "only serve to underscore the fact that some people in the administration still don't understand the values we are all fighting to protect," said Ramona Ripston, calling for the system to be scrapped.
Under the registration scheme, men who are required to register are photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed before being put on a list for federal screening.
Muslim leaders were outraged by the registration program and arrests, saying that the system would not help uncover terrorists living in the United States.
"What kind of terrorists willingly subject themselves to FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) background checks?," said Susan Attar of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles.
"The FBI claims that these background checks are supposed to be effective in locating terrorists. They also call the terrorists 'sophisticated'.
If that is the case, then why would these "sophisticated" terrorists turn themselves into a process that is supposed to be effective in finding them? This process obviously needs an overhaul," she said.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council said that immigration lawyers it works with were advising clients to "wear comfortable shoes and bring a calling card" as they "will get arrested" when registering.
The council branded the measures "counter-productive" and "highly deceptive."
Officials of the INS refused to confirm the number of people arrested in the nationwide swoop on offices where non-resident foreigners from targeted countries had presented themselves for registration.
But they defended the action, saying that only those in contravention of the immigration rules had been detained in the interest of national security.
"We understand the vast majority are law-abiding citizens," said spokesman Francisco Arcaute. "However, there is a small percentage who are not who they claim to be."
Monday was the first registration deadline set by the INS for some 35 million citizens of targeted countries to register in an operation expected to take three years.
The first deadline affected Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Sudanese and Syrian nationals.
Three major deadlines have been set for foreigners from 17 countries, with the next falling on January 10 for citizens of Afghanistan, Lebanon, Eritrea, North Korea, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Copyright 2002 AFP