- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) — The Immigration and Naturalization Service issued a reminder Tuesday to citizens of 13 nations with temporary visas that they need to register with the department by Jan. 10. Failing to register is a criminal offense, the INS warned.

The deadline applies to temporary foreign visitors from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Those who were in the United States as non-immigrants before Oct. 1, 2002, and plan to stay there until at least Jan. 10 must register with local INS offices before then. An INS official said this second group may include about 7,200 foreign visitors.

On the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government launched the National Security Entry Exit Registration System, targeting all adult male visitors from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan. An additional 13 countries were added to the list in October, with temporary visa holders from those countries now registering with INS offices.

The registration for the third group of Pakistani and Saudi nationals and citizens begins Jan. 13 and ends Feb. 21. This is expected to be the largest group, with between 100,000 to 150,000 Pakistanis believed to be affected by the new requirement.

Those being registered will be fingerprinted, photographed, and checked against listings in a database of terrorist connections. Those who do not register can be deported.

The registration, and the detention of more than 400 people in the first phase, brought a wave of criticism and protest from Muslim and civil rights organizations, especially in southern California, where the majority of detentions took place. Advocates warned the detentions might scare visitors away from registering, leaving them open to deportation.

Several Muslim and human rights groups filed a lawsuit against the detentions, and are urging the government to stop or at least reform the registration process.

The INS said those in the second group include students, individuals in the United States on extended business travel, or individuals visiting family members for lengthy periods.

The requirement to register with INS does not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees, asylum applicants, asylum grantees, and diplomats or others admitted under "A" or "G" visas.

This registration is part of the second phase of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, NSEERS, being implemented by the INS to fulfill a congressional mandate to implement a comprehensive entry-exit program by 2005, the INS said.

"The NSEERS program helps ensure our nation's security by protecting the rights of individuals coming to this country as well as the safety of the American people," said an INS officer.

"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," he added.

INS the process helps the government identify wanted criminals and known terrorists entering the United States. It enables the INS to determine instantly when temporary foreign visitors have overstayed their visa, and verify that temporary foreign visitors are doing what they said they would be doing and living where they said they would live.

The process at the ports of entry has operated effectively with participation of temporary foreign visitors from 135 countries, the department said.

The INS has posted on its Web site a list of offices where foreign visitors are required to register.

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