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Iranian-Americans Protest Detention of Middle Eastern Immigrants - 2002-12-19

Thousands of Iranian Americans have demonstrated in Los Angeles to protest the detention of Middle Eastern immigrants after they voluntarily registered with the federal government under new immigration laws. The protest was held Wednesday outside a federal building.

The new immigration law, implemented after last year's September 11 terrorist attacks, requires non-citizen males over the age of 16 to register with U.S. immigration officials if they are from any of at least 15 countries, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa.

The first deadline for some immigrants to register came earlier this week. Immigration officials have acknowledged that some immigrants were detained for various violations when they arrived to register, but would not release an exact number of those arrested. However, the American Civil Liberties Union and lawyers for immigrants rights groups said at least 500 were detained earlier this week in southern California.

It was unclear how many of them were still being held. One report from the French news agency AFP said many posted bail and were freed pending deportation hearings.

Demonstration organizers say those who were detained were packed into jail cells where there is little room to move or sleep. Immigration officials deny the detainees have been mistreated. The officials say they have only held people who violated U.S. immigration laws.

Lawyers for some of the detained immigrants said they had followed U.S. immigration laws and had applications pending for permission to remain in the United States, but did not have current papers because of a backlog at the Immigration service.