LOS ANGELES (–Four civil rights groups filed a federal class action lawsuit Dec. 24 in response to nationwide arrests of Muslims who reported to local immigration offices to comply with the United States’ new special registration requirements.

Attorneys for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed the lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), seeking injunctions to prohibit further unwarranted arrests, to prevent deportation of detainees eligible for legal status, and to prohibit holding eligible detainees without bond or bond hearings.

Plaintiffs include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Alliance of Iranian Americans (AIA), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the National Council of Pakistani Americans (NCPA), and six individuals who represent a broader group of victims. Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson Jorge Martinez said that of the approximately 400 temporary detentions, not arrests, in Los Angeles alone, all except 23 (the youngest being 18-years-old) have been released to continue their process for legal status. No national total has been released yet.


He denied claims of race and religious profiling, and reports that the men “voluntarily” reported to INS offices. They were required by law to register within one month, but waited until the last date, Dec. 16, which caused their temporary detainment until processing was complete, he said.

“What we saw in California was a unique situation that we didn’t see anywhere else in the country throughout the registration period. There’s a significant Iranian population in the area and the first notice, which was mandated by Congress, applied to certain foreign visitors from five countries of state sponsored terrorism, which are Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iran and Iraq,” Mr. Martinez stated.

Francisco Arcaute, spokesperson for the INS Los Angeles District Office, stated that those who passed security background checks were released on a $5,000 bond or less, and must report back within a month for further examination of their immigration issues.

“This is clearly a case of profiling. We don’t believe it has anything to do with the security of the country, because whoever is coming forward obviously has nothing in the closet, and would not have come forward in the first place,” said Faiz Rehman of the American Muslim Council.

The measure is self-defeating and stems from the INS loss of credibility after 9/11 and its own past failures to track immigrants, he continued.

The roundups resulted as Muslims responded to the congressionally mandated National Security Entry Exit Registration Program (NSEERP), which requires males 16 and over from 15 countries to report to INS offices for photographing, fingerprinting, and to report their identity and business in the United States. Adopted in 1996 for implementation by 2005, it was enacted in October, after a testing period, at all U.S. ports of entry, Mr. Martinez stated. The countries were selected by the DOJ because of suspected terrorism activities.

Visitors from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen must register by Jan. 10, 2003. And those from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must do so between Jan. 13 and Feb. 21, 2003, or face possible deportation.

Mr. Rehman said the arrests have caused mass panic within the Muslim-American community, and that despite government claims of protecting national security, the sweeps included Muslims with legal status and greencards.

“Muslims believe this is the first part of a greater plan, and they’re gradually raising the bar, checking the tolerance of the community. It’s one thing one day, and something greater the next,” he continued.

Mr. Arcaute stated that the only time the INS detains anyone, regardless of country of origin or religious background, is if they have violated U.S. immigration law.