Iranian American Bar Association study reveals Iranian nationals were arbitrarily detained and mistreated
Washington, D.C., February 6, 2004 - The Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) released results today from an independent review examining the implementation of the special registration program under the National Security Entry-Exit System (NSEERS) by the INS in late - 2002 and early - 2003. The IABA uncovered substantial evidence of the arbitrary detention and mistreatment of a large number of Iranian nationals who had voluntarily appeared to register.
"To our knowledge, this the first time an independent, systematic and rigorous review of the evidence has been conducted, and it largely substantiates allegations of discriminatory and legally infirm conduct occurring in the course of implementing the NSEERS special registration program," said Babak Hoghooghi, IABA Founder and President. "The temporary suspension of the annual re-registration requirement does not necessarily mean that similar incidents will not recur in the future, nor does it compensate for the individual harm suffered by many registrants who sought voluntarily to comply with the law."
Thirty-four registrants, representing a broad spectrum of Iranians living in the U.S., discussed their experiences during the special registration process, including details of their interrogation as well as the conditions of their subsequent detention, in interviews conducted by the organization's legal team, which included attorneys from Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, a Washington, D.C. law firm retained as pro bono counsel to the IABA. The Report summarizes evidence indicating improper interrogation, arbitrary detention decisions, and poor detention conditions, as well as demeaning and humiliating treatment by INS officials.
Designed to track the identity and movements of certain categories of non-immigrants living in the U.S., the "special registration" component of NSEERS was established in August 2002 and required males over the age of 16 from 25 predominantly Muslim countries to appear and register at specified INS offices throughout the country. In December 2003, the Department of Homeland Security temporarily suspended the annual re-registration requirement of the special registration program.
Twenty-four of the 34 registrants were detained despite voluntarily appearing to comply with the new registration laws. Twenty had pending applications with the INS concerning their immigration status, and 16 had lived in the U.S. for longer than five years. Twenty-three reported having immediate family members in the U.S. Notably, there has been no indication that any of the 24 detainees were deemed to pose a threat to U.S. national security.
The Report finds that in many instances the registrants were treated in a demeaning and humiliating manner, and that they were frequently subjected to arbitrary questioning going well beyond what was necessary to accomplish the purposes of the special registration program. In one case, a registrant was asked by an INS official whether he believed in the Bible. Another INS official reportedly referred to a group of Iranian registrants as "animals" that he was "tired of dealing with." Yet another stated, "Let me go grab my shotgun," upon hearing that members of the detained group of registrants before him were Iranian.
Virtually all the detainees interviewed complained about the severe circumstances of their imprisonment. Complaints included being held for days in overcrowded and unsanitary detention facilities, insufficient food or warm bedding, lack of access to family members or attorneys, and denial of access to required medications or medical treatment. Several people reported that one detainee fainted, struck his head during a bus ride between two detention facilities, and was left unconscious for over 20 minutes without attention or medical assistance from INS officials. Such detention conditions likely violated INS's own Detention Operations Manual and may have constituted pre-trial punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Due Process clause.
"The arbitrary detention and mistreatment of the registrants has contravened both the letter and spirit of the immigration laws and, potentially, more fundamental constitutional protections such as the right to due process," stated Nader Salehi, principal author of the Report and an IABA member. "The loss of resources and good will by the government, and the loss of rights and dignity on the part of these individuals has been unreasonably high given the marginal national security benefits achieved by this program."
Recommendations proposed by the IABA include steps to (a) permanently abandon the special registration program in its current form, (b) commence an open and inclusive dialogue addressing the failings of the program, and (c) consider - and, as appropriate - provide redress for those aggrieved persons who voluntarily sought to comply with the law.
About the Iranian American Bar Association:
The IABA is a tax-exempt, non-profit 501(c)3 corporation organized for charitable and educational purposes. The IABA is dedicated to protecting and furthering the interests, and promoting the advancement, of the Iranian-American community at large and the community of Iranian-American attorneys in particular. The IABA is a non-religious, independent organization and is not in any way affiliated with any other organization.
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