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Middle Eastern, Muslim Immigrants Register with INS - 2003-01-11

Thousands of predominantly Arab or Muslim men lined up at U.S. immigration offices around the country to register with American authorities under a post-September 11 crackdown. Friday was the deadline for the second phase of a three-stage process to require temporary male visitors from countries that have been identified as either state-sponsors of terrorism or nations that have been known to harbor terrorists, to register with U.S. authorities.

Friday's deadline involved males over the age of 16 from 13 countries, including Afghanistan, Lebanon, North Korea and Yemen.

Department of Justice spokesman Jorge Martinez said the new policy's aim is to catch terrorists.

"A terrorist has several options, either he or she registers as required and tries to bluff his or her way around a federal officer, or choose to willfully fail to comply. And those who fail, it is a criminal violation and there will be appropriate actions taken against those who do fail to comply," said Mr. Martinez.

As the deadline loomed, lines at U.S. immigration offices sometimes stretched around the block.

Outside the immigration office in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, 25-year-old student Algerian Hassen Cherifi said he initially was concerned when he showed up at six o'clock in the morning.

"Yes, I was, because I thought they were going to think of me as maybe a terrorist or maybe they going to misjudge me just because of where I came from of the background, religion there," said Mr. Cherifi.

He said he had all the necessary documents, so although he waited a long time, his registration went surprisingly smoothly.

In the program's first phase last month, at least 200 immigrants were arrested, mostly in southern California, when they came forward to be photographed, fingerprinted and questioned. Immigration officials said the detainees were in the country illegally or had overstayed their visas. Most have been released on bail, but activists say the names and whereabouts of dozens more remain unclear.

Outside of the Virginia immigration office, one 27-year-old man refused to give his name or identify which country he came from. But he referred to the previous incident and expressed fear the same thing could happen to him.

"I think it's all messed up, this situation. I'm try to do the right thing. So, I'm going to get in. I don't know if I'm going to be in jail, but it's what I have to do," he said.

The next deadline is February 21, when temporary visitors from countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are required to register with U.S. authorities.