Civil Rights Groups Sue US government on detentions of Mid-East men
Civil rights groups sued the US government Tuesday to stop future detentions of Middle Eastern men under a new anti-terrorism policy that led to hundreds of arrests of visa holders last week.
Groups representing Muslims and Arab-Americans, Iranian-Americans and Pakistani-Americans sued in federal court in Los Angeles, California.
The lawsuit seeks to bar future arrests under rules adopted in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks on American cities.
A new registration program requires male visa holders age 16 and older from countries considered “high risk for terrorists” to report to immigration offices to be fingerprinted and photographed.
At least 400 men were arrested for visa violations when immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sudan went to Immigration and Naturalization Service offices last week to register. Many claimed the violations were due to slow paperwork processing by the INS.
An estimated 3,000 temporary visa holders were required to register nationwide. The majority of those arrested were in Southern California, and nearly all have been released. Many of those released still face immigration hearings and some could face deportation, according to AP.
Opponents of the new rules said many of those held were in the process of becoming legal residents and were arrested without warrants or access to legal help.
"We're not challenging the right of the government to keep track of people who visit the country. We're critical of the way it's being done," said Jason Erb of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the groups that filed the suit. "We're critical of mass arrests of people who are trying to follow all the rules."
For its part, the Justice Department, which oversees the INS, declined to comment on the suit, however spokesman Jorge Martinez defended the registration requirement.
"We're doing what the American people want us to do and we're doing what the law wants us to do," he said. "What are our critics going to say when the next building blows up? That we didn't check on the background of individuals?"
He added that most of the detentions took place in Southern California because it has one of the country's largest Iranian-American populations and because many people waited until the last minute to register and were detained for background checks. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)