by Akhilesh Upadhyay
(IPS) NEW YORK --
of civil rights activists and community leaders lined up outside New York's immigration office on Jan. 9 to protest a controversial U.S. law that requires men from Arab and Muslim countries to re-register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Thousands of men are being fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated under the new law that came into force late last year.
Activists say the special registration programme is a blatant form of racial profiling that targets Muslim and Arab immigrants, who have faced a barrage of harassment from law enforcement agencies since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
In November, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a directive for all males over 16 years of age from 20 countries to register with the INS. The shortest notice, two weeks, was given to nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya. Their deadline expired on December 16.
On that day, hundreds of men were reportedly arrested for minor infractions of immigration laws, including one-quarter of those who showed up to register at the Los Angeles office.
On Friday, a police barricade separated protesters from the non-U.S. citizens who waited in freezing temperatures to beat the Jan. 10 deadline for registration of men from 'Group 2' countries. Many had lined up since early morning so they could get to work on time.
The 13 countries of Group 2 are Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and North Korea.
"The frightening new registration programme is a blatant example of the type of racial profiling the department of justice has been using in the name of national security," said Monami Maulik of Drum, a group working with low-income South Asian immigrants in New York.
Pakistani and Syrian nationals -- in Group 3 -- have been given a Feb. 21 deadline to re-register.
"Look at these people," said Dalia Hashad of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointing at the long line outside of the office. "Many of them have been standing up for hours and have lost their workday. The Bush administration and John Ashcroft have been involved in an extreme form of profiling. Terrorists don't come and stand up here."
But between 1,000 to 2,500 men from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya have been arrested, according to Drum's Stop the Disappearances Campaign.
Critics of the registration program say it is a Catch-22 for non-citizens: non-registration will lead to criminal charges and deportation, but hundreds of those who showed up for registration now face deportation, interrogation, and criminal penalties.
In Los Angeles alone, about 1,000 men have been arrested, detained and held in inhumane conditions and one person reportedly died in custody after being denied medical attention, according to Drum.
Activists said the registration marks the latest in a series of attacks on immigrant rights and civil liberties. Over the past 15 months, thousands of Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, Cambodians, Filipinos and others have been detained and deported, most for minor visa violations, Drum said.
The specific number of those detained or any official charges cannot be confirmed since the INS refuses to comment.
According to the Not In Our Name Project, the recent mass round-ups are an escalation of the racial profiling, detentions and deportations of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians that began after Sep. 11.
Activists say almost 2,000 people of Arab, South Asian and Muslim origin have been rounded up since then and have disappeared. For months, the FBI, the INS, and other law enforcement agencies have been racially profiling immigrants and raiding homes and workplaces, in many cases arresting people in the middle of the night in front of their families.
The vast majority of these people languish in county jails and federal prisons without any charges brought against them, said an action alert distributed at the rally.
The Stop the Disappearances Campaign, along with civil rights, community and faith-based groups, is calling for an immediate end to the registration programme and the release of those currently being detained after the Sept. 11 sweeps. It said that "over 99 percent" of those held have not been charged with any crimes related to terrorism.
"We stand in solidarity with the communities that are affected by this (registration) programme and the groups around the country mobilizing today to end it," said Naeem Baig of the Islamic Circle of North America, one of 20 organizations in the protesting coalition.
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