AILA Urges Repeal of Special Registration

American Immigration Lawyers Association

January 9, 2003

Judith Golub (202) 216-2403
Charlie Miller (202) 466-2080
Dane VandenBerg (202) 466-7246

Immigration Special Registration Must Be Repealed,
Say Immigration Lawyers on Eve of Second Round of Deadlines

Substantial Problems Jeopardize, Rather Than Protect, National Security
Executive Director, American Immigration Lawyers Association

The “special registration” program that the U.S. Government has put into place is a misguided attempt to increase our nation’s security. The American people deserve better than this false solution to a very real problem.  Our nation will not be made more secure by requiring innocent immigrants to report to INS offices to “register”, only to find themselves subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, abuse and possible deportation.  

We urge the Department of Justice/Immigration and Naturalization Service to spend their limited resources in more effective and sensible ways.  Programs to enhance our nation’s security should target terrorists, not innocent people.

The “special registration” program is fundamentally flawed. The program substitutes national origin/racial/religious profiling for effective law enforcement profiling based on intelligence information. 

The program is also deeply flawed in its implementation.  The INS has used special registration to detain people who are on the path to permanent residency.  Hundreds of arrests have resulted.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not given the INS the necessary staff, resources and guidance to implement the program.  As a result, dozens of people attempting to comply with the law have been turned away and told to come back at a future time.  Finally, even though the INS has not effectively educated the public about the program, those who reported “late” after hearing about the program through news reports, friends and lawyers, have been detained and told that they are being punished for reporting after the deadline.

We call on President Bush to end this misguided program.  At the very least, existing deadlines must be extended so that implementation problems can be addressed and corrected.  Necessary corrections include: 

  • Special registration (or other future programs) should not detain or deport people who have a claim to legal status.   It makes no sense from security or economic perspectives to target people who eventually will be granted lawful status.  These people have applications pending for lawful permanent status, have been issued employment authorization documents, or are otherwise are eligible for lawful status.  They are technically and temporary “out of status” due to INS delays and inefficiencies.

  • The DOJ/INS must adequately publicize program requirements, initiate effective outreach programs, and not penalize those who did not register because they did not know about the program.  The DOJ/INS needs to do a better job of effectively disseminating information and take responsibility for inadequately publicizing this program and its requirements.   The DOJ/INS needs to grant waivers for those who did not register for the program because they had no knowledge of it or because of the fear created by the mass arrests of registrants in some offices.

  • The DOJ/INS must implement uniform procedures in their district offices that make sense.  Because the DOJ/INS has provided insufficient guidance to district offices, these offices have used their discretion to adopt widely disparate procedures to implement special registration.  Such disparities should end, replaced by uniform procedures that make sense.

  • The DOJ/INS needs to clarify registration requirements.   The registration requirements are unclear.  The result has been that some people are being turned away from registration centers while others are unsure if they are required to register.  The lack of meaningful outreach to the affected communities makes this problem even worse.

  • The DOJ/INS must take steps to guard against another potential trap for innocent visitors.  A little-publicized rule in special registration requires those who have been registered to report to Departure Control each time they leave the U.S.  Few registrants are given clear information about this rule, but if they fail to follow it correctly, they will be forever barred from returning to the U.S.

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ABOUT SPECIAL REGISTRATION  January 10th is the second deadline of the “special registration call-in” program.  At that time, non-immigrant men from thirteen countries must register to be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed.  Men born on or before December 2, 1986 who entered the country before September 30, 2002 from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are required to register.

The first deadline was December 16, 2002 for certain men from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Libya.  The next deadline is February 21, 2003 for certain men from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

ABOUT AILA Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the INS and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.

American Immigration Lawyers Association
918 F Street NW, Washington, DC, 20004-1400
Phone (202) 216-2400; Fax (202) 783-7853


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03010940.