In an effort to strengthen homeland security, Congress has resurrected a registration requirement for some international visitors. Special Registration requires certain individuals to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed under oath by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials.
Registration and fingerprinting, components of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System that have often been waived in the past, are pre-existing requirements for international visitors over the age of 14 who remain in the United States for more than 30 days.
According to a fact sheet produced by the INS and dated Nov. 6, the first phase of Special Registration was initiated on Sept. 11, 2002.
The INS fact sheet states that the first phase “required selected individuals to be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed under oath at United States ports-of-entry.” The “selected individuals” are citizens or nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan.
Information from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers states that special port-of-entry registration will also affect any individual whom a consular or INS officer suspects of presenting “a heightened national security or law enforcement risk” or who “may violate the terms of his visa or exceed his authorized period of stay.”
Visitors selected to participate in special port-of-entry registration are required to report to their local INS office within 30 days of entering the country for a follow-up interview.
The second phase of Special Registration, “Call-In” Registration, went into effect Nov. 15, 2002. Special call-in registration applies to male citizens or nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan who were born on or before Nov. 15, 1986, who entered the United States on or before Sept. 10, 2002, and who plan to stay at least until Dec. 16, 2002.
Individuals who meet this criteria are required to report to their local INS office before Dec. 16 to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed under oath.
Those who are refugees, have been granted asylum or have applied for asylum before Nov. 6, 2002, or who are lawful permanent residents of the United States are excluded from mandatory registration. Those who entered the country illegally are also exempt.
After initial registration, participants in either phase must continue to report to their local INS office every 12 months until they leave the country.
Failure to register could result in a $1,000 fine, arrest, incarceration and/or removal from the country.
The attorney general decides which countries are included in registration regulations and has the authority to expand the list of countries at any time. Unconfirmed rumors circulate that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen may soon be added to the list.
Similar registration requirements exist in most European countries, including Spain, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
An Arab student at Portland State, who wishes to remain anonymous, suggested registration should have been implemented long ago. The student believes registration is a good idea and the need for tighter security measures became evident after Sept. 11, 2001. The student said law-abiding people have nothing to worry about.
Gil Latz, interim vice provost for International Affairs and professor of geography at Portland State, spent last year on sabbatical in Italy doing research. Upon his arrival in Italy, he had to register with the local law enforcement officials.
“The first thing I had to do was report to the police,” Latz said.
Critics of the registration system have suggested that new security measures won’t make Americans feel safer, but will cost a lot of money. There is also some skepticism about why certain countries are being singled out.
Christina Luther, assistant director of International Education Services at Portland State, said Middle Eastern students are hesitant to speak about regulation changes because they don’t want to appear critical of the government. She suspects they fear the INS will “come after them” if they speak out negatively about what’s going on in the United States.
“Everybody is scared. Everybody is aware. Everybody is careful,” the anonymous student said.
Luther thinks that fear may be justified.
Kate Comiskey, international student adviser, works with Luther to update students about changes, as well as the students’ rights and responsibilities.
“One of the things Kate and I have been trying to impress upon them is that they have rights,” Luther said.
Latz commends International Education Services for its “professionalism” and “sensitivity” while handling these issues, especially in light of budget cutbacks and scant personnel.
“I think we’ve gone to great lengths to reassure our students,” Latz said.
The anonymous student is impressed with the effort International Education Services puts into contacting students, giving them the latest information and clarifying the changing regulations.
“The international department is doing a great job, actually,” the student said.
The student would like to see people take measures to promote peace and understanding.
“Political questions should not be religious questions, and the opposite is true. For this reason, it is not true that every Muslim or every Arab is a terrorist or even a [suspect].”
“My only concern is the future of freedoms in the free world. I cannot imagine a free world without the U.S.A., neither a U.S.A. without freedom,” the student said.
For more information about Special Registration and related issues, visit the INS Web site at www.ins.usdoj.gov, or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.