The required registration affects men over the age of 16 who are not permanent residents of the United States, and are from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Friday’s deadline is the second for the new system for tracking foreign nationals. The first wave of registrations, which was held in December and affected men from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, resulted in hundreds of immigrant detentions and met with complaints and protests from immigration and civil liberties organizations.
A third group, an estimated 14,000 men from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have until Feb. 21 to register with the INS.
During their visits to INS centers, the men are fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed under oath. Those who arrive at the INS with expired visas are subject to deportation and detention, as are those immigrants who fail to meet the deadline for registration.
Those who register must also visit INS offices again if they remain in the United States longer than a year. If they leave the country they are required to see an INS officer on the day of their departure.
The registration effort has attracted widespread condemnation from civil rights groups and has been the subject of numerous legal challenges. Several Arab-American groups have filed a class-action suit against the registration program, while other Arab and Muslim organizations and at least three members of Congress have demanded a halt.
Immigration advocates say the system is problematic because it is selective, and does not allow exemption for those seeking asylum, visa renewal, or refugee status. Critics also complain that those who show up willingly to register may still be deported.
Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez responded to these charges by saying the INS could not be expected to overlook immigration violations because of compliance in registering.
According to the INS and the Department of Justice, the program is necessary because it tracks visitors from countries that have sponsored terrorism or have harbored members of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
A release on the INS Web site reads, “While America is an open and generous society that welcomes visitors from foreign countries, it is essential that the government know who is entering and exiting our borders.”
The required registrations are part of the National Security Entry and Exit Registration System, which passed under the USA PATRIOT act after the September 11 attacks.
The number of registrants has surprised INS officials, who say they expected around 10,000 to date, but received some 15,000 instead. INS officials told the Associated Press Thursday that more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants who have been ordered deported remain in the U.S., roughly the same number as in December 2001.
While immigration advocates are encouraging compliance, they are monitoring INS offices nationwide. The Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, for example, is observing large INS offices in Texas, Michigan, California and other locations across the country Friday.