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Friday, 10 January, 2003, 13:21 GMT
Immigrants fear new US policy
Badie Adouti peers nervously from behind his sunglasses at the line of people outside the offices of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) in downtown San Francisco, as he contemplates whether or not to comply with a new immigration policy or face being sent back to his country.
There they will be fingerprinted, photographed, interviewed, checked against criminal databases and run through international terrorist watch lists.
Flaws in the Entry-Exit Registration System were brought to light following the terrorist attacks of 11 September when it was discovered that some of the accused were in America on expired student visas.
Badie admits that his own visa has run out and that he does not know whether or not to register - friends who came down earlier in the week were arrested and put in jail for visa violations.
"I am so scared, I can't sleep at night," explains Badie, who says he has worked in the city for three years and never been in any trouble.
"We have friends inside who have been arrested. I am not legal here. I don't know what to do."
Equally conflicted is Badie's friend, Chedi Fathi, who also admits to having an out-of-date visa.
Everyday this week, he says, he has come down to the offices to register - everyday he has gone back to his apartment to try and figure out the right thing to do for his future.
"With this new law I might be detained. I am standing in front of the INS building in San Francisco and I am so frustrated," he says.
"I don't even have a passport. If I go in I might be arrested and deported and I don't like that to happen to me."
The latest figures from the Department of Justice in Washington show that so far 400 people have been detained in California on suspected immigration violations since November, when the registration of visa-holders from countries considered high risks for terrorist activity began.
Jorge Martinez says all but 20 have been released, their names having been checked against terrorist wanted lists and criminal files.
Throughout this week, a peaceful vigil organised by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee has been staged across the road from the INS offices in San Francisco in protest against the registration process.
"The reason I am sitting here is that I am very concerned about the direction my government is taking in detaining and registering people born in other countries," she told BBC News Online.
"I think it's racist and designed to instil fear in all of us and immigrants and I want to see and end to it."
Bill Hackman from the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition likened the round-up to a witch-hunt of McCarthyite dimensions.
"The perception that the government is putting out is that we are supposed to be suspicious of men of colour, especially Arabs," he says.
"They are telling us these people are our enemy at a time when the government is trying to push for a war with Iraq and we are here today to say we oppose this."
Across the street, Ghazi Balti from Tunisia waits patiently in line with his attorney.
His tourist visa expired two years ago, and he lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.
"I have never been in trouble. I am not a terrorist. I am hearing they are putting people in jail and I am worried for my family," he says.
"Behind this law is what happened on 11 September and we are going to pay for it. I am standing here in this line waiting for my future."
The whole process is being carefully monitored by a non-profit group called INS Watch.
Volunteers in yellow armbands take a note of the names of people who are going in to register and some contact details in case they are detained.
They ask that the registrants check back in with them so they know what has happened to them.
Heba Nimr is an attorney for INS Watch. "The INS has been so secretive about this process and we are hearing all kinds of conflicting reports about what is going on," she says.
"We are here to help these people and make sure that the INS as a public institution is accountable to the public."
Civil liberties advocates say the government scheme is an inefficient way to find terrorists and will only alienate a group that could help the government.
There are 13 countries affected by 10 January deadline.
They are Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korean, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Another 14,000 men from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have until 21 February to register.
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