INS extends registration deadlines

WASHINGTON -- Deadlines for thousands of male visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries to register with U.S. immigration authorities were extended one month Friday by the Justice Department.

About 15,000 males age 16 or older from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will have until March 21 to be fingerprinted, photographed and show certain documents at local Immigration and Naturalization Service offices.

Another group of about 19,000 from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait will have until April 25 to register.

The extensions come as a wave of protests has largely subsided over the program, which saw hundreds of men and boys detained when they showed up at INS offices to comply. Justice Department officials say there are 139 in custody, many of whom will be released on bond while their immigration cases are settled.

The registration program is part of a broader post-Sept. 11 effort by the INS to tighten security at U.S. borders and track down foreign visitors whose visas may have expired or who may be in the United States illegally. Seven suspected terrorists have been identified because of the program, along with 401 criminals or others who should not be permitted entry in the country, said Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez.

Hodan Hassan, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic relations, said large-scale detentions of visitors from these countries have not occurred since December but that many Muslims still regard the program as discriminatory and ineffective in capturing terrorists.

"There's still a lot of confusion and uncertainty about who applies. It still stigmatizes the American Muslim community," she said.

All told, about 46,000 students, tourists, business people and visiting relatives from 25 countries are being required to register if they expect to stay in the United States for an extended period. Other countries will be added in the future.

The requirements do not apply to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, people seeking asylum or diplomats from the affected countries.

Deadlines have already passed for people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria -- all considered by the United States to be state sponsors of terrorism -- as well as those from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

A grace period given to visitors from the 18 countries who missed an earlier deadline expired Feb. 7. Martinez said an additional 1,850 men and boys registered in that period, during which no penalties were assessed.