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Consumer Reports

INS not to extend deadline for Muslims | (UPI) -- The Immigration and Naturalization Service said Monday that so far it does not plan to extend the registration deadline for visitors from 17 Muslim countries and North Korea.

Under the National Security Entry Exit Registration System, launched on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government must maintain photographs and fingerprints of all male visitors from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan. Another 13 countries were added to the list in October.

More than 3,000 men ages 16 and up from the five countries on the first list need to register by Monday evening. Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria are also on the U.S. State Department's list of the countries that sponsor terrorism.

Another group of more than 7,000 males from 13 other nations are required to register by Jan. 10. Out of these 13 countries, 12 -- Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen -- are Muslim. North Korea is the only non-Muslim country on this list.

A Department of Justice spokesman Jorge Martinez told United Press International on Monday there's no plan to extend the deadlines.

"Individuals who approached INS with personal requests on medical and other grounds, they are being granted waivers, but only on individual basis. No extension."

Some Muslim civil rights and advocacy group are urging the INS to extend its deadline for the registration of non-immigrant visa holders from Muslim countries.

"The government has done little to spread the word in the Muslim and Arab-American communities about the requirement to register. Many people may unwittingly place themselves in the position of being deported merely because they lack information about the INS order," said Jason Erb, governmental affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Erb expressed concern about reports that a number of those who complied with the order have been detained based on visa technicalities. He also said some registrants report being asked inappropriate questions about their mothers and fathers, credit card information, and even the contents of their pockets.

"This seems to be another in a series of 'dragnet' policies that target law abiding visitors. These policies are an ineffective and inefficient use of law enforcement. They create unnecessary fear and apprehension among visitors to our nation. People are either uninformed or confused about the orders. We need more time to educate our community about the registration program," Erb said. He added that those who must register should consult an immigration attorney prior to their interview with the INS.

Martinez also denied reports that INS has added Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Armenia to the list of 18 countries whose nationals require registration while visiting the United States.

"There has been no addition so far to the original list of 18 countries," said Martinez.

"We have checked with the INS and so far Pakistan is not on the list of countries requiring registration," said Mohammed Sadiq, deputy chief of mission at the Pakistan Embassy.

Martinez, however, said that while announcing the list, INS had said that more countries may later be added through additional notices. "But I am not aware when the new notice will appear."

However, both INS and the Muslim community leaders confirmed that a large number of male visitors from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been individually asked to register at the port of entry. They were also photographed and fingerprinted.

"Most Pakistani males, aged between 16 and 46, have been ordered to register while entering the United States," said Imran Ali, the counselor officer at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.

"There's no general deadline for them. Each individual was told when to register," said Ali.

Confirming this Martinez said such decisions were by the INS officers at the port of entry. "They have the discretionary power to ask visitors from any country in the world to register," said Martinez. "There's no discrimination against any ethnic or religious group," he said.

Ali warned visitors to cooperate with the INS officers, saying that the officer at a port of entry has "unlimited power" and "it is very important for visitors to understand this. An INS officer can refuse to entertain a valid visa as well."

Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are believed to have protested to the State Department against this practice. "We have registered our protest at the highest level," says Mohammed Sadiq, Pakistan's deputy chief of mission in Washington.

Those signaled our for registration are digitally photographed and fingerprinted so that investigators can determine whether they fit the profile of suspected terrorists, as well as aliens with criminal records.

So far, 179 individuals have been detained after registering, but none turned out to be terrorists, said Martinez.

The INS registration program is the first step in a process that will include the integration of the system's database with the FBI's data on 40 million criminals.

Congress directed that the databases be merged after a notorious 1999 case wherein the INS deported a wanted serial killer, who later returned and killed four more people.

INS officials, however, say they have to overcome a number hurdles technical and political hurdles to fully integrate their system with FBI's.

The INS system contains two digitally scanned fingerprints of each person, whereas the FBI's database stores 10 fingerprints rolled in ink of each person. That makes it difficult to conduct searches across both databases.

Besides, it takes around two hours to search the FBI's database, which may cause huge queues at ports of entry if INS officers also start consulting FBI records before stamping a visa.

The proposal to integrate INS data base with FBI's also has alarmed rights groups who fear that it may lead to race and religion based discrimination against visitors from certain countries.

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© 2002, UPI