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Mideast photos prints { November 7 2002 }

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U.S. Wants Prints Of Muslim Visitors
Arab Rights Groups Denounce Plan

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 7, 2002; Page A03

The Justice Department announced yesterday that it will require thousands of students, workers and other men from five Muslim countries who are temporarily residing in the United States to be fingerprinted and photographed, the latest step in its program to register visitors from countries linked to terrorism.

Authorities launched the registration program less than two months ago at airports, where they began gathering extensive information from arriving citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria -- countries allegedly involved in terrorism -- and other people suspected of links to terror.

Now the program will be expanded to include male citizens of those countries who entered the United States before Sept. 11, 2002, and plan to stay until at least mid-December, officials said yesterday.

Justice Department officials said they expected the program to affect fewer than 5,000 men.

The registration program is part of efforts undertaken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to better screen foreign visitors, authorities said. In this case, their fingerprints will be checked to determine if they are wanted in connection with terrorism or other crimes.

The registration program affects a tiny percentage of the tens of millions of tourists, students, business people and temporary workers who come to the United States each year. But it has already caused a diplomatic row with Canada, because it also applies to people who have passports from two countries, such as Syria and Canada.

U.S. groups representing Muslims and Arab Americans have denounced the plan as ethnic profiling.

Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, noted that none of the Sept. 11 hijackers came from the five Muslim countries included in the new initiative, and said that only Sudan had much of a relationship with the al Qaeda terrorist network.

"This just looks like a list drawn out of political convenience," he said.

Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the program would be a burden on visitors and yield few positive results.

"They're telling us this will make us safe from terrorists. But the terrorists aren't the ones who are going to come forward and register," she said. Under the plan, anyone who fails to register could be deported.

A Justice Department official said visitors from the five countries were being summoned because the nations are on the State Department's list of official sponsors of terrorism. But the list of those required to register would probably grow, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Men from Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan were subject to fingerprinting at airports even before the latest anti-terrorism measures took effect, Justice Department officials said. But until recently, those prints were not entered into the new, computer-based system used to screen for terrorists, officials said. In addition, the new program requires visitors to provide much more information, including their cell phone numbers and exact dates of travel.

Under the new measure, which takes effect Nov. 15, men ages 16 and older from the five nations must register with a U.S. immigration officer by Dec. 16. They must present travel documents and proof of residence, such as school registrations, and be interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed. They must check in with authorities once a year.

The measure applies only to visitors, not political asylum applicants or immigrants who have "green cards" that grant them permanent legal residence.

Kathy Bellows, assistant dean in the international student office at Georgetown University, said some schools are concerned that their students from the five countries might have to travel hours to an Immigration and Naturalization Service office. That was not the case in Washington, she added, where foreigners can register at the INS office in Arlington.

She said students had generally complied with new anti-terrorism measures without complaint.

"I'm hoping they don't feel it's so much an invasion of privacy as an American would feel it is. We honor privacy as a part of this culture. But for them, they're saying, 'We're guests, we're happy to comply,' " she said.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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