- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) — The U.S. government Thursday decided to give a second chance to thousands of immigrants from 18 mainly Muslim countries who have yet to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Most of them are citizens of two groups of countries whose male nationals were required to register earlier but had missed the deadlines.

Officials at the Department of Justice told United Press International that those who had failed to register within the given period could now register between Jan. 27 to Feb. 7.

"We do not want to punish those who were not informed on time or failed to register for genuine reasons," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department.

"We will try to be as reasonable as we can, we don't want those to be in trouble and who had a good reason for missing the deadline," he added.

Human rights and Muslim advocacy groups had earlier urged the U.S. government to extend the deadline. They said that the government had not adequately publicized the new rules and that was why thousands of people had failed to register.

The grace period will apply to long-term male visitors from five countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria — who missed the Dec. 16 deadline, according to an INS notice published Thursday in the Federal Register.

The extra time also will apply to those from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen who missed a Jan. 10 deadline.

INS officials believe fear of arrest or deportation, lack of knowledge about the program and large crowds at local offices might have prevented many of those covered by the rules from registering earlier.

Under a program enacted by Congress in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, males 16 and older from 25 countries are required to register with the INS.

Different deadlines have been imposed for different countries. The biggest group to this point is that of men from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who must register by Feb. 21.

INS expects almost 15,000 Pakistanis to register during the third phase, almost double of 7,500 men who registered during the first two phases.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington, however, says that new restrictions may affect as many as 50,000 or more Pakistanis living in the United States. There is no solid figure as to the umber of Pakistanis in the United States, but they make up the largest group of Muslims immigrations in the country.

Corallo said almost 800 foreigners, mainly Iranians, were detained in Southern California last month when the registration deadline arrived for the first group of visa holders. That prompted angry demonstrations and a lawsuit against the federal government.

The decision to provide a grace period, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 7, comes as the INS expands the registration program to add men and boys from Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Bangladesh.

Long-term visitors to the United States from these five countries will have from Feb. 24 to March 28 to register at local INS offices. This does not affect U.S. citizens, diplomats, refugees or permanent resident aliens — those holding "green cards."


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