Greenberg Traurig, LLP  




GT Business Immigration Observer
January 2003

Two Special Registration Deadlines Pass: What you Need to Know About the Special Registration Program

The latest group ("Group IV") designated for Special Registration was announced on January 16, 2003. This group includes males 16 years and older who are citizens or naturals of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait. The period for registration for this group is from February 24, 2003 through March 28, 2003, inclusive. More details about this registration group, deadlines, and requirements can be found at the GT Business Immigration Group website.

Another new development in the Special Registration program is the reopening of the registration period for the first two groups, consisting of males who are 16 years or older, and who are citizens or nationals of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, or Yemen. The new registration period for these two groups begins on January 27, 2003 and ends on February 7, 2003. More details on this new registration period can also be found on the GT Business Immigration Group website.

This article provides summaries of the experiences of registrants around the country in their efforts to comply with the Special Registration program. As noted above, please refer to our website articles for specifics on who must register, when, and where. The rules are very specific, so please review them carefully.

One of the often over-looked requirements of the program is that those who are subject, when departing the United States, must depart by way of the INS-designated airports only. Three general requirements to keep in mind are: (1) the initial registration deadline; (2) the follow-up registration deadlines (depending on oneís particular situation); and (3) the designated airports for departure from the United States.

There is also a sometimes confusing aspect of registration for those who are not sure if they are a "national" of one of the listed countries. The program requires that citizens or "nationals" of the listed countries must register. The Immigration and Nationality Act provides a vague, and impractical definition of a "national." The Act defines a "national" to be "a person owing permanent allegiance to a state." It appears that, for the purposes of special registration, the INS is considering a "national" to mean a person "born in" one of the listed countries. There is a caveat to this as well for individuals born in countries where nationality is not necessarily a birth right. For example, an individual who was born in Saudi Arabia to parents who are of U.K. Nationality, and who has not other connection to Saudi Arabia, is likely not considered to be a Saudi National by Saudi Arabia. Therefore, an individual in this situation would not be required register. For those who are not sure about how their country of birth defines their nationals, it is advisable to consult with the Embassy directly.

Those with dual citizenship may also be confused with the requirements. Based on the federal register and INS guidance, a person born in one of the designated countries, and who has subsequently obtained citizenship in another country, for example Canada or Germany, would still be required to register.

This first registration program, which included males who are citizens or nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria, was characterized by poor notice to the public of the deadline and who was required to register, poor instructions by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to its officers for processing the registrants, and pervasive confusion about what registrants needed to do to comply with the program. To add to the existing confusion and frustration, the DOJ also distributed guidelines to the local INS offices that included severe consequences for failure to comply, making the program a fiasco.

Consequently, as reported by some major newspapers, approximately 500 registrants were arrested in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County during this first registration period. Other areas of the country did not experience arrests on any scale like this, nevertheless, arrests were occurring throughout the United States. These massive arrests and detentions caused substantial media attention, public condemnation, and a lawsuit was organized and filed against the U.S. Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and the INS. The lawsuit was brought by the Alliance of Iranian Americans, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and the National of Pakistan Americans.

The lawsuit alleged that the large numbers of arrests were unlawful because: (1) the government did not obtain the necessary arrest warrants; (2) it is unlawful and unjust to arrest and deport people who are eligible to apply to legalize their status based on family relationships or their employment; (3) some individuals with avenues to legalize their status are being detained without bail or bail hearings, and (4) the fear of mass illegal arrests created by these detentions will inhibit compliance by people facing similar registration deadlines in the future. This lawsuit remains pending as of the date of this writing.

By the time that the second registration deadline for "Group II" arrived on January 10, 2003, the INS had taken steps to better organize the program and issued instructions to its offices for the policies regarding detention. It was determined that all registrants who are not currently in a lawful status are to be referred to the investigations section for determination of whether the individual should be placed in removal proceedings. In many offices, referral to the investigations section means the person must be "taken into custody." This could mean the use of handcuffs and separation from an attorney during transit, if necessary. In some offices, a bond is required, and in other offices, registrants are released without the payment of a bond, as long as there are no aggravating factors in the personís history (for example, a criminal offense). Across the nation the bond amounts of ranged from $1,500 to $10,000. Additionally, where individuals are taken into custody, many offices are processing those individuals the same day.

Since the first registration period, the INS has made substantial improvements in its handling of registration. The most recent statistics show a reported 24,000 registrants, 1,169 of whom reportedly have been detained. Still, there remain many unanswered questions and there is no consistency between offices regarding what documents are needed. Generally, offices have required presentation of all immigration documents, including all I-20s for students, I-797 notices and/or receipts from the INS, and employment authorization documents. Of course, a registrant must take his passport (if he has one), photo identification, and proof of current residence. Some offices have requested credit card information and asked registrants to show all documents in their wallets. Attorneys have objected to requests for credit card and other such personal and private information, and have found that the INS dropped these requests in some cases.

Questions asked by offices vary, but tend to run among similar lines. Sample lists of questions from different offices are attached and were compiled by AILA members.

While there has been progress in the organization and application of this new registration program, should you have any questions about your immigration status, you should review your case with an immigration attorney prior to going to the INS to register. You may also wish to be accompanied by an attorney in certain circumstances, and if you have any doubt about whether you have maintained status during your stay in the United States, we recommend that you consult with an attorney before going to the INS to register.


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