As if there weren't already enough reasons to love the INS...
From the AP ("Thousands protest new immigration policy"):
Thousands of Iranian-Americans demonstrated against the arrest of Middle Eastern immigrants who had voluntarily registered with the federal government under a new anti-terrorism program... . Many demonstrators claimed their husbands, sons and brothers were victims of government entrapment, that they were forced to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then were arrested for not having their papers in order, which in some cases were caused by government backlog.
Their signs bore such sentiments as “What Next? Concentration Camps?” and “Detain Terrorists Not Innocent Immigrants.”
Under the program all male visitors at least 16 years old from five countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, were ordered to register in person with the INS by Monday. Temporary visitors from 15 other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are required to register by Jan. 10, 2003...
Um... doesn't that sound a little creepy...? and familiar? The ACLU has more, of course:
Monday, December 16 marks the deadline after which many citizens of five predominantly Arab or Muslim countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria - must be fingerprinted at designated Immigration and Naturalization Service offices or face deportation. By January 10, 2003, citizens of 13 additional countries - Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen - must also submit to registration.
Failure to register could lead to arrest and deportation of otherwise lawful visitors, according to the INS. Adding to the anxiety, some Arab and Muslim visitors with pending immigration petitions were detained when they came in to be fingerprinted.
By all accounts, the INS’s problems are actually stemming from a surplus of information, not insufficient investigatory powers, the ACLU said. For instance, the INS failed to process more than 200,000 change of address forms, which are piling up in an abandoned limestone mine outside Kansas City, MO that doubles as the largest underground records facility in the world, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of wrongful arrest and deportation.
"This program appears to be a thinly veiled effort to trigger massive and discriminatory deportations of certain immigrants whose only mistake will be to fail to register because they are confused and afraid, not because they have violated any existing immigration law or pose any threat to the United States," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
So what's the next step--making all immigrants or visitors from predominantly Muslim countries wear armbands with a crescent on them? Really, it brings tears of patriotic joy to my eyes...
Post Script: A More Sensible Spin
Sometimes I wonder why I bother reading Associated Press reports at all (and then I remember that I can hardly criticize mainstream media if I pay no attention to it...) As Tom Tomorrow points out, while the AP's use of the word "claimed" insinuates that the protestors are making things up, the Reuters version ("Hundreds of Muslim Immigrants Rounded Up in Calif.") gives them more credit:
Hundreds of Iranian and other Middle East citizens were in southern California jails on Wednesday after coming forward to comply with a new rule to register with immigration authorities only to wind up handcuffed and behind bars.and
Shocked and frustrated Islamic and immigrant groups estimate that more than 500 people have been arrested in Los Angeles, neighboring Orange County and San Diego in the past three days under a new nationwide anti-terrorism program. Some unconfirmed reports put the figure as high as 1,000.
The arrests sparked a demonstration by hundreds of Iranians outside a Los Angeles immigration office. The protesters carried banners saying "What's next? Concentration camps?" and "What happened to liberty and justice?."
A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said no numbers of people arrested would be made public. A Justice Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.
The head of the southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union compared the arrests to the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during the Second World War.
Islamic community leaders said many of the detainees had been living, working and paying taxes in the United States for five or 10 years, and had families here. "Terrorists most likely wouldn't come to the INS to register. It is really a bad way to go about it. They are being treated as criminals and that really goes against American ideals of fairness, and justice and democracy," Khan said.
The Iranian protesters said many of those detained were victims of official delays in processing visa and green card requests. "My father, they just took him in," one young man told reporters. "They've been treating him like an animal. They put him in a room with, like, 50 other people and no bed or anything."
Khan said one of those in jail was a doctor, who was being sponsored for U.S. citizenship when his sponsor died.
One Syrian man said he went to register in Orange County with a dozen friends. He was the only one to come out of the INS office. "All my friends are inside right now," M.M. Trapici, 45, told reporters. "I have to visit the family for each one today. Most of them have small kids."
I would blog about this at length, but as I didn't actually finish all the papers due on what was supposed to be my last day of Harvard ever I would like to direct you to Atrios while I grind my teeth in frustration over the four papers I needed to write by yesterday.