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Pakistan Raises Concerns Over US Detention of Hundreds of Pakistanis - 2002-03-09

Pakistan is again raising concerns with the United States over the prolonged detention of hundreds of Pakistanis determined to be in the country illegally. U.S. immigration officials say some of those detained are being investigated for links to last September's terrorist attacks.

Some of these Pakistanis have been jailed for months, with many only now being released and allowed to return home. Pakistan wants to know why. Asad Hayauddin, a spokesman for the Pakistani embassy in Washington, said "we've offered to deport these people if there's nothing else hanging against them. In some cases, there was speculation that they may be investigated for links to the terror attacks."

President Pervez Musharraf first raised concerns over the prolonged detentions during a meeting with President Bush last November and again last month. "We would like to know all the names of the people because they are our citizens," said Asad Hayauddin. "Those who have criminal cases against them, that's understandable."

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Russ Bergeron said those detained came into INS custody because of immigration violations. "But there was also a parallel investigation on-going with respect to the terrorist attacks," he said. "Clearly, if we have an individual in our custody who has been ordered deported, but that individual is also related in some way to an on going criminal investigation, we're not going to remove that person from the United States until such time as we are as certain as humanly possible that that person has no connection to the criminal investigation."

Despite criticism from immigration advocates and Muslim groups, former INS chief counsel David Martin thinks the Justice Department is not overstepping the law, given the scale of last September's attacks. "We did face a pretty extraordinary situation after September 11. The government had a basis for holding them at least for a period of time. If they're using their discretion in as wide a fashion as can possibly be construed, that's somewhat understandable in light of the extraordinary circumstances," he said. "As the time lengthens though, I think they really do have a complaint."

Hundreds of Pakistanis have been detained and some of those who have been ordered deported are being escorted out of the United States by U.S. Immigration agents.