Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles are angry about the arrests of some Iranian nationals by U.S. immigration officials. Thousands of protesters took to the streets Wednesday, saying hundreds of Iranians were detained in the city early in the week. The detainees were responding to a registration order, imposed as an anti-terrorist measure.
The order, aimed at tightening security in the immigration system, requires temporary visitors from mostly Arab and Muslim countries to register at local immigration offices. Monday was the deadline for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria.
Los Angeles is home to many Iranian immigrants, and more than 2,000 gathered Wednesday to protest the arrest of at least 500 local Iranian residents, according to the estimate of the protesters.
Kami Fallan wore a pair handcuffs. "This is what they did to my brother-in-law," he said. "They not only put the handcuffs on him, but they put the chains on his legs. Why? Because he volunteered to go in there and comply with the law?"
Immigration officials will not say how many were detained, but say that most of people who registered did so without problems. Authorities say they detained only those who have violated the law. Francisco Arcaute of the Los Angeles office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service said those in the country illegally, people, for example, who have overstayed their visas, will face deportation. "If you do not have any of those issues, then you have nothing to fear," he explained.
Lawyers for some detainees say their clients had already requested permanent residence status.
A protester, who was detained but released pending an immigration hearing, said "The way they handled it, it was like we are the terrorists. So this is not right. The terrorists don't go to immigrations offices, don't say 'these are my papers, and this is my name and I came here for fingerprints.'"
The head of the local office of a civil liberties group called the detentions "disturbing," noting that some Iranians had fled their country to avoid persecution.
Another protester said he agrees with the aim of the registration, but is angry that it required so many detentions, apparently over visa violations.
"We don't oppose the action because we know as Iranian Americans, for the security of this country, this has to be done. We oppose the process. We oppose the way they handled the process," he added.
The registration deadline for temporary visitors to the United States from 13 additional countries, including Afghanistan, North Korea and Yemen, is January 10. Men from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan must register by February 21. The registration order applies only to males 16 years of age or older, but not diplomats, refugees or those who have applied for political asylum.