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ADC Comments on Suspended Requirements of Special Registration

Director, Regulations & Forms Services Division
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
425 I Street, N.W., Room 4034
Washington, D.C. 20536
Re: Comments to Proposed Rule “Suspending the 30-Day and Annual Interview Requirements from the Special Registration Process for Certain Nonimmigrants” ICE No. 2301-3; RIN 1653-AA29 (68 Fed. Reg. 67577 (December 2, 2003)


Dear Sir or Madam:
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) offers the following observations on the interim regulations, which came into effect on December 2, 2003, “suspending” the 30-day and annual re-registration processes under NSEERS as well as modifying the program in other ways.
Founded in 1980 by former United States Senator James Abourezk, ADC is the largest grassroots civil rights organization dedicated to defending Arab-
Americans from bigotry and stereotyping. By working with federal agencies and private businesses, ADC seeks to raise awareness about the various forms in which discrimination against Arab Americans occur, from prejudicial employment practices to biased immigration procedures, and to educate the public about possible remedies to these situations.
ADC welcomes the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend the 30-day and annual re-registration requirements of the NSEERS program. While this is a commendable action, ADC firmly believes that it should represent the first in a series of steps to terminate the NSEERS program in its entirety. Because of its flawed implementation, NSEERS has resulted in the unnecessary and unjust deportation of thousands of immigrants whose only “serious crime” was being of Arab descent. In addition, there are still important questions regarding requirements facing the over 170,000 individuals affected by the port of entry registration program, as opposed to the call-in system. 
Below, please find ADC’s specific concerns about the effects of selected portions of the interim rule.
  1. The relationship between US-VISIT and NSEERS 
       needs to be addressed and clarified.
 
The interim rule has been presented publicly as a regulation that effectively replaces NSEERS with US-VISIT. But ADC knows that the requirement has not ended NSEERS as there continues to be ongoing requirements under NSEERS. From our experience, it seems that NSEERS registrants who re-enter the U.S. will have to undergo registration under US-VISIT as well. We have received reports from many individuals who have been fingerprinted and photographed twice or three times under NSEERS and who were also subjected to requirements under US-VISIT. Indeed to have both programs in effect simultaneously is inefficient and a waste of resources.
Also, the exit procedures for the two systems have not been consolidated. Individuals who have been registered under both programs do not know if, on exiting the country, they are subject to the US-VISIT or NSEERS requirements, or both. In addition, individuals from NSEERS countries whose initial registration is made through US-VISIT are not given any indication that they must comply with the NSEERS exit requirements.
Therefore, we urge that NSEERS be terminated. Alternatively, a clearer explanation needs to be given as to whether NSEERS as a whole has been terminated and, if not, then explanations need to be provided about the requirements that must be followed by individuals covered by both programs. In addition, inspectors registering individuals from NSEERS countries must inform these individuals that they are covered by NSEERS and are subject to the requirements of the program. 
     2. Provisions for cancellations of the two 
          re-registration requirements under NSEERS
          need to be further publicized and clarified.
While we credit DHS for canceling the re-registration requirements, outreach efforts have not been sufficient to inform individuals about the cancellation.
Indeed many media reports added to the confusion, as they continued to report that NSEERS has been terminated. This led to serious confusion among affected
individuals who thought that they no longer had to comply with NSEERS, specifically with regards to the departure requirements.
Additionally, the provisions for notifying non-immigrants about discretionary re-registration requirements needs to be further clarified. Although publication in the Federal Registry would appear to satisfy the Department‘s
notification obligations, the public does not read the Federal Registry. For example, under call-in registration, publication in the Registry proved to be futile, as many learned of the program primarily through community groups, civil rights organizations, and others. Furthermore, when the program was publicized in the Registry, the posted information was either incorrect or not posted on time.
In addition, there is further concern relating to the 10-day notice. The 10-day notice is unrealistic because those who are employed may not be able to comply with this requirement under such short notice. For example, a businessman who is traveling around the U.S., attending meetings, may not get the notice in the mail in sufficient time to comply. He, therefore, would be deemed to have violated the program‘s requirement.
     3. Written materials and re-registration packets
          were not provided to registrants at airports on a
         consistent basis.
Although we were informed by government officials that NSEERS registrants would be provided with materials regarding the program, many registrants were not. Even when such materials were provided, in some instances, this information was countered by incorrect statements made by immigration officials. This was particularly damaging for individuals who could not read English. Materials were certainly not provided on a consistent basis, which ultimately led to more confusion under the program. Therefore, appropriate materials must be developed and provided consistently.
     4. Exit/Departure Control interviews should be  
         terminated.
There continues to be confusion with exit interviews. Many registrants do not know that the requirement is still in effect. Others have been given misleading information by immigration and airline officials about how to meet these obligations.
In addition, most airports still do not have the capacity to conduct such interviews. Many individuals from NSEERS countries who attempted to go through departure interviews were not able to find registration offices at designated airports because there were no indications as to their location. Those who were able to locate the offices found them closed and were not able to register. For example, students from various Arab and Muslim countries were denied re-admission into the US because there were no immigration agents present at the various airports to conduct exit interviews prior to their departure.
Taking these shortcomings into consideration, there needs to be more notice and outreach regarding this requirement. If the Department is not willing to put resources into this on-going aspect of the program then this requirement should be eliminated and its resulting punishment should be modified.
     5. Registrants are still not clear about the 
          requirement to report a change of circumstance,
          change in address, school, or employment.
We continue to be concerned about the lack of notice to NSEERS registrants about the abovementioned regulations. While many registrants may know of a requirement to report a change of address, most do not know of the requirement to report a change in employment. The Department must be able to communicate this requirement to all registrants.
     6. Attention needs to be given to registrants who  
          have been negatively impacted by the program
          due to the programs failures.
Many registrants have been negatively affected because of the Department’s failure to publicize the program‘s requirements. Some registrants for instance were detained because they registered late through no fault of their own. There have also been various concerns regarding the flawed implementation of the program nationwide. Individuals with pending applications were detained and placed in removal proceedings even though their presence raises no concerns of criminal conduct or terrorism. Particular consideration should be given to those individuals with pending applications who complied with the law and submitted to registration requirements.
CONCLUSION
ADC believes that the suspension of the 30-day and annual re-registration is a good step. However ADC continues to urge that the program be terminated due to its many shortcomings. Instead, we urge the Department to concentrate its resources on programs that are more effective in protecting our national security.
Sincerely Yours,
Carol Khawly, JD
Legal Advisor