U.S. Will Seek to Fingerprint Visas' Holders
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, June 4 ? The Justice Department will
propose new regulations this week requiring tens of
thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders to
register with the government and be fingerprinted,
administration officials said today.
The initiative, the subject of intense debate within
the administration, is designed for "individuals from
countries who pose the highest risk to our security,"
including most visa holders from Saudi Arabia,
Pakistan and many other Muslim nations, officials
said. More than 100,000 foreigners, including
students, workers, researchers and tourists, all
foreigners from designated countries who do not hold
green cards, would probably be covered by the plan, an
Antiterrorism teams made up of federal, state and
local officers that have been formed in most larger
cities since the Sept. 11 attacks would help
immigration officials register visa holders already
living here, using procedures similar to those
employed to find 5,000 mainly Middle Eastern men who
were sought for interviews after the attacks.
New arrivals from the designated countries would be
fingerprinted at airports or seaports and be required
to register with the Immigration and Naturalization
Service after 30 days in the country, officials said.
Violators could be fined, refused re-entry into the
United States or possibly deported, officials said.
The plan will be published in the Federal Register.
After a comment period, it will become a Justice
The proposal ignited a raging debate in the Bush
administration. White House officials supported the
Justice proposal, but the State Department lodged
objections, fearing diplomatic repercussions with
allies in the war on terror, administration officials
A Justice Department spokeswoman, Susan Dryden,
declined to comment on the proposal.
Immigration specialists, meantime, are warning of new
backlogs at airports if already understaffed
immigration service inspectors are required to
fingerprint and process a new category of visitors.
But some civil liberties and Arab-American groups
expressed outrage at the proposed requirements,
arguing that such a policy was a blatant example of
racial and ethnic profiling.
"What's the logic of this?" said Jeanne Butterfield,
executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association. "Anyone who's truly dangerous is not
going to show up to be registered."
James J. Zogby, president of the Arab American
Institute, a policy organization, said the
registration plan would be "an overtly discriminatory,
inefficient and ineffective way to deal with the
"This is targeting a group of people, the overwhelming
majority of whom are innocent, but whose lives will be
turned upside down," Mr. Zogby added. "The message it
sends is that we're becoming like the Soviet Union,
with people registering at police stations."
The authority for proposing the new registration
requirements rests in a long-dormant provision in the
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952,
administration officials said.
A section of that law requires all foreign visa
holders to register with the government if they remain
in the United States for 30 days or longer. The law
also required the fingerprinting of virtually all
foreigners who were not permanent residents, except
The law remained on the books, but enforcement fell
off in the early 1980's when the volume of visa
holders climbed rapidly and the immigration service's
budget and staffing dropped.
"By the early 1980's, the sheer volume of the effort
combined with a lack of funding resulted in the
practice being discontinued," said one administration
In 1979, the same year as the beginning of the Iranian
hostage crisis, Iranian students were required to
register with the government. After the attacks last
year, most visa holders from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and
Libya were fingerprinted as they entered the United
But the terrorist attacks had given fresh impetus to a
much broader program. One administration official said
the new registration proposal, which Justice officials
planned to brief to Congress on Wednesday and announce
later this week, would give the government a leg up on
identifying the highest-risk foreign visitors now
living in the United States.
Congress has required that the Immigration and
Naturalization Service establish a system to monitor
the entry and departure of all immigrants, beginning
But other officials said the contentious proposal
broke free from an internal administration debate only
amid the recent recriminations over what intelligence
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central
Intelligence Agency and other federal agencies
possessed before Sept. 11 about the possibilities of a
One of the leaders of the interagency discussion on
the alien registration proposal is a conservative
University of Missouri at Kansas City law professor,
Kris W. Kobach, officials said.
Although Mr. Kobach, 36, is only a White House fellow
on temporary assignment to the Justice Department, he
also played a central role in another contentious
proposal to give state and local police departments
the power to track down illegal immigrants as a new
tactic in the global war on terror.
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