Special Registration Advice

From the Pakistan embassy website:

What if my last entry to the United States was not legal (without inspection and admission), do I have to register? This category applies to those Pakistanis whose entry to the US was not on a valid visa and they crossed the border.

No. The current Registration requirements apply only to aliens who have been inspected by an Immigration officer and admitted to the United States.


INS Special Registration Procedures

A lot of people don’t have any idea of what special registration entails and how it is inconvenient to frequent travellers. Non-immigrants from mostly Muslim countries have to go through special registration at the airport as well as at INS offices. For the call-in special registration currently happening for Pakistanis and Saudis, here is what the INS says:

  1. You must come to a designated INS office to be registered (photographed, fingerprinted, and interviewed under oath) between January 13, 2003 and February 21, 2003.
  2. If you remain in the United States for more than 1 additional year, you must report back to a designated INS office within 10 days of the anniversary of the date on which you first registered. For example, if you were registered January 20, 2003, you would report back between January 10 and January 30, 2004.
  3. If you change your address, employment, or educational institution, you must notify the INS in writing within 10 days of the change, using Form AR-11 SR.
  4. If you leave the United States, you must appear in person before an INS inspecting officer at one of the designated ports and leave the United States from that port on the same day.

In addition, when you enter the United States, you have to go through special registration at the port of entry and then report to the INS office a month later.

And all this takes a lot of time. Every time at the port of entry or exit you have to spend two hours or so for special registration. Every time you go to the INS office, you waste a whole day. Now, imagine someone who has to frequently travel outside the US due to business. Every trip outside the US costs him 2 hours (at port of exit) + 2 hours (port of entry) + 1 day (INS office after 1 month). Would you like to waste so much of your time for something that has dubious benefits for national security?

Special Registration: Pros and Cons

Suman Palit of the Kolkata Libertarian has two posts on the pros and cons of the special registration process:

If I were a de-facto emigrant from Pakistan, like someone on a H1-B work visa or a F-1 student visa, or a J-1 exchange visa, or even a B-1 business traveller visa, I would be worried and incensed by this ruling. It’s the result of the same kind of illogic that characterizes typical gun-ban arguments. (Criminals are using guns to commit crimes, so lets ask all gun owners to register their guns so that we can pretend that we know when a gun is used in a violent crime, er.. okay then)

Pakistanis with legitimate visas are already in the INS database. They have jobs, Social Security numbers. They are the ones actually going to class, earning PhDs, teaching American kids on their way. They are possible future immigrants whose loyalty and faith in the American dream must be nurtured, not hobbled and caged by unwarranted suspicion. Asking them to “register” is a fools errand for the INS. A way for the bozos with Homeland Security to pretend they are doing “something”.. after all, “something” must be done to make this country safer. Must it not..?

What makes the INS think that if there are Pakistani immigrants with visions of blowing up the Mall of America, that these men are going to comply with this ruling? What makes the INS think they can actually track them down if they fail to register. You have to wonder whether this program is a ploy to cover up INS and FBI intelligence failures of the past. This is an organization that renewed visas for the WTC bombers after 9/11. This is the organization that Americans are supposed to put their faith in? This is the organization that Americans from Pakistan are supposed to trust?

[…]The percentage of the demographic likely to comply with this ruling are going to be people with the most to lose by being deported. Students and temporary workers looking forward to converting their non-immigrant visas into immigrant visas. In other words, the ones who are least likely to be involved, even tangentially, with any terrorist sleeper cells.

[…]The INS has limited resources. Interviewing several thousand men from over twenty countries is going to be an expensive proposition. Creating, maintaining and ultimately effectively sifting through this database of information is not a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing expense with little benefit.

This program is going to generate a large number of false positives. Imagine if you will, a slightly nervous 20-year old, being interviewed by people he is certain don’t like him much.. They ask him if he knows anyone named Adil Pervez. He tells them he has two uncles in Pakistan with that name. The INS interviewer gets all excited, calls the FBI in. The FBI then pursues a lengthy investigation and finds out that one of these men is an invalid living in Peshawar, the other is a businessman now in London. But now the kid has been flagged. He may or may not be telling the whole truth.. right? Maybe the kid gets deported. Just in case, you know..? Keeping the country safe, that’s all.

If we are to win the long-term war against Islamic Fundamentalism, then we need to find ways to engage the Muslim community in a serious debate that will have to include the sensitive and highly-charged subject of Islamic reformation. Programs of registration like the one currently proposed is going to set the debate back by a generation. We do not have the luxury of that much time. We need the Muslim community on our side, and we need to find ways to encourage them to be front-line troops in this war. Not cannon fodder for bureaucrats looking to cover up flaws in their organizations and their procedures.

Just being back from Pakistan, the one question I got from everyone was about special registration. Everyone was worried and incensed because of it. Even though there is huge anti-American sentiment in Pakistan right now (more on my impressions from Pakistan later), that doesn’t mean we should take actions that anger Pakistanis more, especially things that that don’t really add to our security.

Special Registration: Again

Iranians are protesting according to LA Times:

In peaceful Irvine, where Iranians who fled the Ayatollah Khomeini established a tight-knit community of professionals and young families, the last thing anyone expected was to be tossed in jail.

On Tuesday — the day after dozens of immigrants from Middle Eastern countries and Sudan were taken into custody during a government registration process — residents like Ahmad Mesbah were filled with sadness and anger.

“We suffered a lot, and that is why we are here. We love the United States, so this has been frustrating,” said Mesbah, who helps lead monthly networking meetings for Iranian professionals. “There’s also something ironic about it. This affects the cream of the crop who came here. We are scientists, doctors, engineers.”[…]

Reza Tabib was indignant that his friend Efran Haj Rasoli — a 19-year-old Irvine Valley College student — was taken into custody Monday because he lacked a residency card. Tabib said the INS wrote Rasoli a letter indicating it had been approved in 2000 but that because of INS backlogs, it had not arrived.

Ok, I don’t understand. Permanent residents are not supposed to register. If Rasoli’s application was approved by the INS, he was a Permanent Resident. He did not need to go, unless there is something we do not know. In my experience, media stories about immigration matters are extremely ignorant.

So what do you think? Will all this publicity help the US cause? I know these people who were detained are very likely to have violated immigration laws. But without any actual figures and details from INS and the Justice Department, how can we be sure? Also, there are a lot more immigration violators from Latin America and other countries. Why this selective application of the law? I know, terrorism. But explain that to the Iranian guy who had to run away from Iran because of persecution from the government there.

Atrios has a number of posts on the subject. Start here and go up.

Special Registration: PR Failure

Here’s a news item from Reuters:

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.

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.

Now the rhetoric here is definitely over the top. There’s no way one can compare Japanese internment camps with the current arrests. Also, I have no reason to believe that the people arrested were not violating immigration laws. However, I find it strange that the INS refused to give out the number of people arrested. My guess would be that almost everyone detained would be in violation of immigration laws. So why not be forthright about it? The secretive habits of this administration are going to bite it hard. Also, this will be a big story in the Middle East. In the end, dear reader, do you think it will help the US effort against terrorism or hinder it? That is the question no one is asking.

Security: Pros and Cons: Part Deux

While we are on the subject of security policies, I should mention the FBI interviews of people from Middle Eastern and Muslim countries. I was also one of the people interviewed by US government agencies early this year. My interview was harmless. The time and date of the interview was set at my convenience. The interview lasted about half an hour. There were two agents who were very polite. They didn’t ask to see any documents. They were interested in what sort of work/research I was doing in the US and whether I had any contact with anyone who could be interested in advanced technology for the wrong purpose. Looking back at my interview, I see no harm being done. But there were people who were afraid, some because they didn’t like being singled out, others because an encounter with the police in their home countries is not a pleasant thing. There were also cases of people who had broken the law in some way (e.g. working without INS authorization to make ends meet while they were in school.) In the end, the story in Pakistan was not of polite FBI officers interviewing law-abiding people. It was of Pakistanis and Muslims being targetted and harassed. The news reports told of people being detained and deported. The media, as Aziz emphasizes, focuses only on the scandalous and sensational. What we forget is that it’s not just the US media; newspapers (which are usually more independent than TV and radio in most of the Middle East) in other countries do the same. It’s just that what they sensationalize is our follies and our policies.

Security: Pros and Cons

More countries are being added to the special registration requirement by INS (see here.)

Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy has just received an advance copy of a Federal Register notice, scheduled to be published on December 18, that adds the following groups to the “call-in” registration requirement: males born on or before January 13, 1987; nationals of Pakistan, Armenia, or Saudi Arabia, who were last inspected and admitted to the United States as a nonimmigrant on or before September 30, 2002; and, will remain in the United States after February 21, 2003. Such foreign nationals will need to register at a local INS office between January 13, 2003 and February 21, 2003.

According to INS,

Special Registration is a system that will let the government keep track of nonimmigrants that come to the U.S. every year. Some of the approximately 35 million nonimmigrants who enter the U.S. —- and some nonimmigrants already in the U.S. —- will be required to register with INS either at a port of entry or a designated INS office in accordance with the special registration procedures. These special procedures also require additional in-person interviews at an INS office and notifications to INS of changes of address, employment, or school. Nonimmigrants who must follow these special procedures will also have to use specially designated ports when they leave the country and report in person to an INS officer at the port on their departure date.

These nonimmigrants will be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed when they report at an INS office.

Another result of the war on terrorism is the authority given to CIA to kill terrorists:

The Bush administration has prepared a list of terrorist leaders the Central Intelligence Agency is authorized to kill, if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized, senior military and intelligence officials said.

The previously undisclosed C.I.A. list includes key Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as other principal figures from Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups, the officials said. The names of about two dozen terrorist leaders have recently been on the lethal-force list, officials said. “It’s the worst of the worst,” an official said.

Even though I agree with the basic principle behind both of these policies, I am a little troubled. I believe that it is sometimes (though rarely and as an absolute last resort) necessary to use assassination (which is what this policy is in effect.) However, we should be very wary because there is a huge chance that this kind of power will be misused. All we need to do is to look back over our own history during the cold war.

Another thing that needs to be considered for both the special registration and the killing of terrorists is the weighing of consequences. We need to include all direct and indirect effects of these policies. Will these policies get rid of terrorists? How about help in capture? Prevention of terrorist attacks? Effect on relations with other countries? Anger at the US among citizens of countries who have to go through fingerprinting? Hatred of US in those countries as these stories get exxagerated back home? Will assassinating one terrorist create 10 new ones? What if we assassinate somebody who is innocent? Isn’t this the sort of thing that makes Henry Kissinger “one of the ten most evil men of the 20th century” (trademarked by the Talking Dog)?

Does that mean we shouldn’t ask people from specific countries to get fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed? Not at all. I do believe the basic policy is justified. (Please note that I do not fall under the category requiring special registration.) So my question is not exactly about the policy itself, but the thought process of the administration in coming up with this policy. Did they think long and hard about it? Did they consider the pros and cons, both short-term and long-term, of their decisions? And this is where I am not confident.

UPDATE: My views on the assassination policy were probably not clear. I believe that assassinations can be justified only very rarely as an absolute last resort against terrorists against whom we have already made a very good case internationally.