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DOJ Continues To Expand Scope Of Special Alien Registration Program

by Cyrus D. Mehta

When we last wrote about the Special Alien Registration Program, it applied only to nationals of certain countries at the point of entry into the United States (see Attorney General Announces Partial Implementation of Special Alien Registration Program). This program seeks to fingerprint nonimmigrants from countries with significant Muslim populations, and then requires the individual to report periodically to the INS as well as report to the INS prior to departure from the US. Since September 2002 the Department of Justice (DOJ) has continued to expand the scope of this program to apply to nationals of certain countries who are already in the US.

This program is troubling because it inherently profiles an individual based on his or her nationality regardless of individualized guilt or suspicion. It even applies to nationals of other countries who were originally nationals of the targeted countries. In response to the DOJ’s special alien registration activities, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued a travel advisory on October 29, 2002, cautioning Canadians from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Yemen to “consider carefully whether they should attempt to enter the US for any reason.”

On November 6, 2002, the DOJ published a rule (Fed. Reg. page 66765-66768) that would require certain nonimmigrant aliens from one of the countries designated who were last admitted in the US on or before September 10, 2002, and who will remain until at least December 16, 2002 to appear and register themselves with the INS.

According to the rule, “a willful failure to comply with the requirements of this notice constitutes a failure to maintain nonimmigrant status under § 237(a)(1)(C)(i) of the Act.” Furthermore, the rule warns that an alien who fails to comply with the special alien registration provisions is deportable, unless the alien establishes to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that such failure was reasonably excusable or was not willful. Finally, if an alien subject to registration departs the US without reporting to the INS, the alien shall be presumed to be inadmissible upon reentry.

This rule applies to a male who was born on or before November 15, 1986, who is national or citizen of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, or Syria, and was last admitted to the US as a nonimmigrant on or before September 10, 2002. Individuals subject to registration under this rule would have to appear on or before December 16, 2002 before an immigration officer at any of the locations listed in the notice.

On November 22, 2002, the DOJ promulgated another rule (Fed. Reg. page 70525-70528) that would expand the list of countries from the previous rule. This rule requires a national or citizen of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, or Yemen who was inspected by the INS and was last admitted to the US as a nonimmigrant on or before September 30, 2002 and will remain until January 10, 2003 to appear before an immigration officer on or before January 10, 2003.

Many individuals subject to registration will inadvertently miss these notices to register and will then have to suffer the consequences of being deemed out of status and deportable. A few may not even realize that the rule applies to them if they are not presently citizens of the designated countries but whom, according to the INS, “claim citizenship” from one of the designated countries.

Furthermore, the questions that will be asked by the INS at the registration interview are likely to be very extensive, intrusive and offensive. According to the INS worksheet, students will be asked names of their roommates and whether they are affiliated with social/religious/political groups on campus. Tourists will be asked names and contact numbers of all persons they have stayed with and business visitors would be asked questions such as “How far is it from your house to your office?” or “How do you get from your home to work?” Every nonimmigrant will be asked the question, “Are you associated with anyone who is potentially dangerous to the United States?”

About The Author

Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City. He is First Vice Chair of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award. He is also Chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-425-0555 or

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.