Participants at a Muslim American conference called on the Immigration and Naturalization Agency Saturday to terminate its registration program and stop "deceptive tactics that frighten law-abiding members of the community." And they asked the INS to disclose the number and locations of people who were detained last week while trying to register.
More than 1,000 people, packed into the ballroom of the Long Beach Convention Center for the Muslim Public Affairs Council's annual conference, approved a one-page resolution that also calls on the U.S. Congress to hold special hearings on the detentions and on what they call overreaching powers of the USA Patriot Act, which was passed last year in reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The INS registration program, mandated for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria who are in the United States on temporary visas, led to the detention on immigration violation charges of as many as several hundred, some of whom had nearly completed the process for legal residency, friends and relatives of the detainees have said. A second registration for male visa holders from 13 countries, including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Lebanon, North Korea and Yemen, is scheduled for early next month.
Aslam Abdullah, editor of the Minaret, a national Islamic magazine based in Los Angeles, likened the detentions to those of Japanese Americans during World War II. "As citizens of this country," he said before introducing the council's resolution, "we cannot allow our tax dollars to be used by the people who are employed by us to cloud the founding principles of the nation."
Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American Muslim organization based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., said the registration program marks a "pivotal moment for the civil rights of Muslims." Echoing the sentiments of many attending the conference, he said there has been an erosion of public confidence in the U.S. government.
Al-Marayati said the USA Patriot Act, passed last year, placed the U.S. Department of Justice in the position of being both prosecutor and judge. That act, a sweeping federal law, broadens the government's ability to use secret searches, wiretaps and other covert surveillance techniques in pursuit of terrorists.
"Just because it's a law doesn't mean it's constitutional," he said.
Maher Hathout, another conference speaker, said many of the detainees fled their countries of origin for political reasons. Yet, he said, "No matter how much you say, 'I hate them and I love America,' it doesn't matter," he said.
Many conference attendees said they know people who had been detained last week. Adam Homsi, 22, a consultant on technology, said two of his clients, brothers originally from Iran, were among the detainees. He said he was told that the men were detained in cramped quarters inside a warehouse.
"You would think it happened in another country," he said.
"Why would they call on law-abiding citizens to register?" wondered Sajeda Sultani, 50.
Joseph Zogby, special counsel on post-9/11 national origin discrimination in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, addressed conference attendees shortly after the vote was taken.
He acknowledged that many people within the Muslim American community have developed a mistrust of government. "That is very worrisome to us."
Zogby, said his department has little jurisdiction over the detention issue. But he promised to take concerns expressed in the meeting back with him to Washington.