Rights and Registration
SPENCER MICHELS: Reunited for the first time after being released from detention, these Middle Eastern men are still outraged by the treatment they received from the Immigration and Naturalization Service while in custody. As temporary visa holders, they had gone to register under new post-9/11 rules. They were detained and eventually jailed. Thirty-four-year-old Ali Salahieh, a biomedical engineer in San Francisco, was born in Syria and came to America on a student visa 17 years go. He is applying for permanent status in the U.S.
ALI SALAHIEH: They said that there was some irregularity with my status, and I was taken away to a holding cell, in shackles. And for the next three nights I was driven back to and from San Francisco to a facility north of Sacramento, and I kept my street clothes on, and we were not provided with any bedding for three nights.
SPENCER MICHELS: Salahieh was one of more than 15,000 Arab and Muslim men from Middle Eastern countries in the U.S. on temporary visas who have been lining up at INS centers around the country. The Department of Justice ordered them to register in an effort to identify potential terrorists. The program was authorized by Congress in 1996, but it wasn't until well after the attacks of 9/11 that Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft announced the new regulations, according to Justice Department Spokesman Jorge Martinez. Martinez was interviewed by reporter Adrienne Urbina.
JORGE MARTINEZ: It is a system that is necessary to make sure that we have that better understanding of who enters and exits our country, and that these individuals are doing what their stated intention is.
SPENCER MICHELS: Visa holders from five Middle Eastern countries considered to harbor terrorists had to register by Dec. 16. Another deadline was set for Jan. 10 for natives of 11 Middle Eastern countries plus North Korea. Those from two allies of America, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were added to the list with a Feb. 21 deadline. Today the Department of Justice announced that visa holders from five more countries must register by March 28, and that some previous deadlines have been extended.
As soon as the process began, the INS started detaining some of the men, charging that documents were not in order or late, or that visiting students were not taking enough courses. Officials say 400 men have been detained in California alone, and all but 20 have been released.
PROTESTORS: INS! FBI! No more detentions! No more lies!
SPENCER MICHELS: The whole process sparked noisy demonstrations like this one last week outside INS headquarters in San Francisco, with protesters alleging that the detentions are illegal, and the registration itself is discriminatory.
REV. CECIL WILLIAMS: Our brothers and sisters are denied their civil liberties, their civil rights, their human rights. We must always have a cadre of people who will stand up and say, "No, no, no."
SPENCER MICHELS: Ali Salahieh first met 42-year-old Faramarz Farahani in an INS cell in San Diego in December. Farahani is a database manager in California's Silicon Valley, a native of Iran and a Canadian citizen in the U.S. for the past two years on a work visa. Both came to register, certain their papers were in order. Farahani, who wasn't even sure he had to register because he is Canadian, was put on a government prison transport plane by U.S. marshals. He was not sure where he was going.
FARAMARZ FARAHANI: I had a person who was sitting next to me who threw up. A lot of… you're under a lot of stress, you're in handcuff, you're in chain, you're in shackles, you're sitting in this tight spot, and the flight was a very rough flight.
SPENCER MICHELS: Were you in shackles this whole time?
FARAMARZ FARAHANI: Hands and legs, and there's a chain around your waist.
SPENCER MICHELS: Salahieh was also put on a prison plane and flown from Oakland to Arizona to Kentucky, back to Oakland, and then to Bakersfield and San Diego. In San Diego and in Florence, Arizona, the detainees were taken to INS lockup facilities.
ALI SALAHIEH: In Florence, we were in a bigger detention facility, and there were beds available for us, and we asked to use the beds, and they said "No, you can't use the beds."
SPENCER MICHELS: Did anyone ever tell you why you were in detention, why you were being treated this way?
ALI SALAHIEH: They said that there was some irregularity with my… with my paperwork and my pending residency applications.
SPENCER MICHELS: Salahieh, who put up bond and has a hearing next month, said he understood the need for extra security measures after 9/11.
ALI SALAHIEH: I'm very okay with the idea of sharing information with the authorities. I'm very concerned about the security of everyone, and I want to cooperate as much as I can. But being left without bedding for five days I don't think improves the security of anyone.
SPENCER MICHELS: Farahani was released on his own recognizance, but the INS would not pay for his flight home.
FARAMARZ FARAHANI: It still is painful. I have a very close relationship with my kids. They're only five years and seven years old. They were seriously impacted by the situation, knowing that any minute someone can come and take their father away without notice.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Justice Department says allegations of mistreatment are unproven.
JORGE MARTINEZ: There is not one iota of credible evidence that any of this happened. No one slept standing up. No heats were turned off. No one was transported to multi-state locations. I mean, this is completely untrue.
MARC VAN DER HOUT: The National Lawyers Guild, who I'm representing here, is prepared to do battle in the courts and with you in the streets. And what we need to do… ( cheers )
SPENCER MICHELS: Civil libertarians like immigration attorney and national lawyers guild leader Marc van Der Hout say the treatment of immigrants while in detention has been outrageous. Plus, it is ineffective.
MARC VAN DER HOUT: If you are an individual from al-Qaida, you're not going to be standing in line at the immigration service for hours on end and going in and talking to the INS so that they can do background checks on whether or not you are a "sleeper." It's totally unrealistic.
SPENCER MICHELS: But the INS takes its orders from the Department of Justice, and those orders are to check out visitors whose documents are incomplete.
JORGE MARTINEZ: Any individual who is out of status, or of illegal status, they have broken immigration law, and it is the duty and responsibility of the INS to make sure that these individuals are not in a terrorist watch list, or that they are not wanted felons.
MARC VAN DER HOUT: Everybody from top to bottom in the Immigration Service is afraid of being the person to make the decision to say "It's okay to be released." But you can't detain 10,000 people because maybe one of those one day might commit a crime. And that's really what this is all about.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and INS Watch, have posted monitors at immigration offices to keep track of those registering.
HEBA NIMR: At its smoothest, the process takes two or three hours. For a lot of people, they're here sometimes for as long and six, seven, eight, nine, ten hours; sometimes being told they might be detained, and then they're released at like 10:00 or 11:00 that night.
SPENCER MICHELS: Nimr says many of those registering are frustrated and upset by it all. But others say they don't mind.
MAN: Everything is all right. There's no problem.
SPENCER MICHELS: The enforced registration and the detentions are long overdue in the eyes of those who would restrict American immigration. Rick Oltman, who represents the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it's about time the government has tried to keep track of foreign visitors.
RICK OLTMAN: We have got to have paid more attention to enforcing our immigration laws. We have at least 11 million illegal aliens in the country that we don't know anything about. We need to have a way of keeping track of these people, and when we do find them in the course of immigration enforcement business and they're in violation, they have to be treated as if they're in violation.
FARAMARZ FARAHANI: I agree that people who are not here legally should be treated differently. I agree that this is not their right, this is a privilege. But they have to follow the rule that they set. If they have given me a visa to stay in this country legally, then they should respect… the same organization that approved the visa should respect their own decision.
SPENCER MICHELS: For attorney Van Der Hout, the bottom line is that the program violates individuals' constitutional rights, even if they are foreign visitors.
MARC VAN DER HOUT: The arrests of individuals without warrants, the arrests without justifiable cause, the detention for days on end while they try to determine whether or not they should be detained or not… those violate the people's constitutional rights, and that's what's wrong with this program.
SPENCER MICHELS: But the Justice Department says registration and detention are needed.
JORGE MARTINEZ: We need to conduct these checks to make sure, to be absolutely sure that these individuals are not… are not in these categories of wanted terror… or known terrorists or wanted felons, because we don't want anyone free to roam the country attempting to harm the American people.
SPENCER MICHELS: Several immigrant groups have filed a lawsuit against the INS and the attorney general demanding an immediate halt to what they believe are illegal detentions. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice says it intends to investigate any allegations of mistreatment.