For Immediate Release: December 2, 2003
NEW YORK – Human Rights First welcomed Monday’s announcement by the US Department of Homeland Security that it would abandon aspects of a controversial initiative requiring all males over the age of 16 from 25 predominantly Arab and Muslim countries to report and register with the government upon penalty of deportation. Under the new policy, those targeted by the Department’s registration program will still be photographed and fingerprinted when they arrive in the United States, but they will no longer have to re-register repeatedly if they remain in the country for more than a month.
“Since the September 11 attacks, the Administration has too often turned to blanket, nationality-based information and detention sweeps as a substitute for targeted investigation – an approach that has had serious consequences for America’s immigrant communities but little or no benefit for homeland security,” said Deborah Pearlstein, who directs Human Rights First’s US Law and Security Program. “The decision to discontinue some of the harshest, most confusing aspects of registration is an important step toward correcting these past mistakes.”
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), commonly known as “special registration,” was enacted soon after September 11, and required males 16 years or older from 25 countries to register either when they arrived in the United States, or to report to their local immigration offices and register if they were already present in this country. Those who registered were fingerprinted and photographed. And those who failed to comply with registration requirements were subject to deportation.
Until Monday, confusing rules governed when these visitors were required to “re-register” with immigration authorities – rules even immigration officials struggled to understand. Some visitors were expected to re-register 30 days after arriving, others had a year depending on how they registered in the first place. All subject to special registration were required to register upon departing the United States.
Misinformation about registration requirements, including inaccurate, unclear and conflicting notices distributed by government immigration offices, led to widespread fear and confusion in immigrant communities about the scope and effect of registration. In addition, early stages of registration were marked by harsh uses of detention, and more than 13,000 men and boys who registered were ultimately placed in deportation proceedings. Yet despite the harsh crackdown, the government has charged no one identified through registration with a terrorist-related offense.
The new rules do not lift registration requirements entirely, but they do allow for individuals to apply for a waiver. Those arriving at ports of entry are still required to register, and the Department retains the discretion to require any person subject to special registration to re-register upon proper notice.
Foreign nationals affected by registration requirements include men from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.