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ACLU trying to help immigrants re-register

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

By Michelle K. Massie, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Prompted by phone calls from Arab and Muslim immigrants who were confused by information about registration deadlines, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has begun a campaign to inform male immigrants that they must re-register with the federal government.

As part of national security safeguards put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks, those who had to report for last year's special registration are required to re-register every year within 10 days of the anniversary of their original signup.

Officials from the ACLU said yesterday that the federal government has done a poor job of notifying people about the requirement and that some of those affected may be missing deadlines.

Earlier this year, a La Roche College student from Jordan was imprisoned after missing a deadline, and the ACLU helped free him on bond.

"We have been getting more calls from people who are subject to register who are confused about registration deadlines," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Greater Pittsburgh ACLU chapter. "This confusion is likely to lead to violations by innocent ... law-abiding people who are unable to navigate this tremendously complex system."

Walczak said the registration requirements are unclear about people who left the United States during the past year and were registered when they returned. The requirements are vague as to whether the one-year anniversary applies to the original registration date or to the date of return to the United States.

According to Walczak, men ages 16 to 35 who come from 25 different countries, mainly Arab and Muslim nations, are subject to special registration. He said the federal government has not sent any individual notifications to immigrants about the re-registration requirements and has not conducted any community outreach.

"We are trying to get the word out so that those people who are subject to registration in the Pittsburgh area are not put at risk for arrest or deportation because they did not know they had to register again," Walczak said.

The statewide public education campaign will send informational packets to mosques and other institutions and groups that serve men who are subject to re-registration. Anyone seeking information about re-registration should call 412-681-7736.

Michelle K. Massie can be reached at or 412-263-2533.

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