Ryo Kumasaka, one of the 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were rounded up and forced into U.S. concentration camps during World War II, worries that history may be repeating itself.
“We were rounded up for no other reason than the fact that we were Japanese: no warrant, no charges, no trial – citizen and non-citizen alike,” he said. “And now the same thing is happening.”
The “same thing” is NSEERS, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, established under the USA/Patriot Act and administered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. NSEERS expands already existing INS systems for tracking foreign nationals living in the United States.
Among its provisions is the requirement that male immigrants over 16 years of age with temporary visas who come from designated countries be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed.
“That’s what they did with us – they made us register and gave us a number,” Kumasaka said. “When people are singled out on the basis of religion and ethnicity, it’s racial profiling, pure and simple – and it’s wrong.”
Non-resident immigrants from more than 25 countries all, with the exception of North Korea, having predominately Muslim populations, must register before the end of February.
Emile Schepers, program director of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, said the interviews are “frightening and intimidating. People are required to give names of people with whom they are visiting and, for students, a list of all courses in which they are enrolled, the names of their roommates and the campus organizations to which they belong. People who are guilty of even minor visa violations can be arrested and jailed on the spot.”
According to Kit Gage, a spokeswoman for National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, more than 1,100 men and boys from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria were arrested by INS authorities when they attempted to register on December 16. The arrests set off angry demonstrations in the Muslim community in Los Angeles.
Later, a coalition of 50 human rights organizations sent a letter to the White House calling for the president to eliminate NSEERS.
“The program is hugely problematic in concept and implementation,” the letter said, adding that some law-abiding immigrants who had attempted to comply with NSEER have been detained for slight procedural infractions, such as not having all the proper paperwork.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) have written to Attorney General John Ashcroft denouncing the NSEERS program, demanding that it be suspended. The letter also asked for specific information concerning the arrests that had taken place.
In its version of the omnibus budget bill for fiscal year 2003 the Senate cut off funding for the NSEERS program. However, the version approved by the House provided full funding for the measure. Constitutional rights groups are urging a lobbying effort to win inclusion of the Senate version when a House-Senate Conference Committee in mid-February to approve the 2003 budget.
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