Approaching INS deadlines worry immigrant advocates

Elizabeth Dunbar

As deadlines approach for nonimmigrant males from 18 countries to report for special registration, Justice Department officials say additions to the list of countries could be announced as soon as the end of this month.

Nonimmigrants are citizens of other countries who are in the United States on a temporary basis, such as those with student visas.

With a little more than a month to discover and comply with the new requirements, many immigrant-rights advocates are concerned those affected will not hear about the requirements in time.

“How people are supposed to know about it is a very big question,” said Anwen Hughes, an attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a national organization based in New York.

The new special registration program requires male nonimmigrants from designated countries already in the United States to appear at Immigration and Naturalization Service offices for interviews, fingerprints and photographs. The deadline for some countries, such as Iran and Iraq is Monday, and for other countries including Somalia and North Korea the deadline is Jan. 10.

Willful failure to comply with the new requirements will lead to fines, incarceration and possible deportation, said Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez.

“People can be subject to one or all of those three,” he said. “We know who we issue visas to, and anyone deemed noncompliant Ö is subject to those penalties.”

With such harsh consequences, Hughes said, the Justice Department and INS have not done enough to get the word out.

“Ordinary people don’t read the Federal Register,” Hughes said, explaining the new requirements were initially announced in the government publication.

The additional 13 countries were added to information on the INS Web site only this week.

Martinez said the INS has been proactive in getting the information to immigrant community groups.

“At this time, there are no problems related to not getting the information to the individuals affected,” Martinez said.

Though the INS has contacted several organizations – including dozens in the Twin Cities – explaining the requirements, it remains unclear whether the information will get to affected nonimmigrants.

Tom Kosel, a program manager for Catholic Charities’ refugee and migrant resources, said his organization receives updates from the INS about new regulations through e-mail and bimonthly meetings.

Though the refugees Catholic Charities works with are not affected by the new requirements, Kosel said he thinks the INS is doing what it can to spread the word.

“I’m not sure what other way there is to do it,” he said.

Hughes said the people affected by the requirements are not likely to be associated with community organizations the INS is contacting.

“Nonimmigrants might be less clued into immigration organizations because they’re nonimmigrants,” she said. “They’re wrapped up in travel or school and might not find out about this.”

Scott Wright, a Twin Cities immigration attorney, said he thinks problems will arise once some of the deadlines have passed.

“The reality is that there are going to be people who don’t know about it,” he said. “In this context, I’m guessing that the government is not going to be too lenient.”

Citing a recent case in Atlanta, Ga., however, Crystal Williams, director and liaison of information for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the government might have to consider a different approach when dealing with those who did not know about the deadlines.

“It will be difficult for the government to show willful noncompliance when there was hardly any publicity about it,” she said.

Judy Golub, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said many illegal immigrants probably will not show up for registration knowing the risks involved.

“People who are likely to do us harm are less likely to register,” she said, adding the new requirements will be ineffective in enhancing security.

“The whole notion is how to use our resources wisely,” she said. “In this case, it doesn’t seem to do the trick, leaving people worried and confused if they even know about it.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]