Dec 16, 2009

NY Times Article Concerning NSEERS

Church Works With U.S. to Spare Detention
December 13, 2009

HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — When the young pastor started his ministry here at the century-old Reformed Church in 2001, he gave little thought to the separate congregation of Indonesian Christians who shared the sanctuary. They worshiped quietly in their own language on Sunday afternoons, at the end of a hard week’s work in the factories and warehouses of central New Jersey.

But by May 2006, when they began pleading to sleep at the church, the pastor, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, had to pay attention. At the apartment complex where many Indonesians lived, armed federal immigration agents in a single night had rounded up 35 men with expired visas and outstanding deportation orders, as their wives and children cried and other families hid.

Suddenly a prosperous suburban congregation was confronted with the labyrinthine world of immigration law and detention. This year, when one of its own leaders, an Indonesian, was detained for months, only the pastor’s passionate, last-ditch efforts saved him from deportation. And the church reached a new level of activism — with extraordinary results.

Under an unusual compact between the pastor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, four Indonesians have been released from detention in recent weeks, and 41 others living as fugitives from deportation have turned themselves in under church auspices. Instead of being jailed — as hundreds of thousands of immigrants without criminal records have been in recent years — they have been released on orders of supervision, eligible for work permits while their lawyers consider how their cases might be reopened.

Though agency officials say the arrangement is simply an example of the case-by-case discretion they often use, the outcome has astonished advocates and experts in immigration enforcement, and raised hopes that it signals some broader use of humanitarian release as the Obama administration vows to overhaul the immigration system.

Still, for those who turn themselves in, the leap of faith carries big risks. For now, they can check in at a federal office every three months and, if granted a work permit, can secure a driver’s license. But they are also vulnerable to immediate deportation. Just this fall, nine Indonesian Christians in Seattle who had been on supervised release for years were abruptly detained, and some were deported.

The immigration agency issues about 10,000 orders of supervision annually, but they typically involve people who cannot be deported for practical reasons, like a homeland that will not take them back. The agency detains roughly 380,000 people a year.

“I’m totally on uncharted waters,” Mr. Kaper-Dale, 34, a Vermont native who shares the pulpit with his wife, Stephanie, said in October as he began seeking volunteers willing to place themselves in the government’s hands, from about 200 candidates not only at his church, but at several other New Jersey congregations.

The first ones to step up had to overcome fear born of experience.

“Very, very scary,” said Augus Alex Assa, 46, who fought tears as his 5-year-old daughter, Christia Celine, clung to him in the van from the church, in Middlesex County, to an immigration enforcement unit in Newark. “In my heart, I hope I will stay in the United States.”

Like most of the Indonesians, Mr. Assa and his wife, Grace, came on tourist visas that were suddenly easy for poor people to get in the 1990s, when a booming economy welcomed foreign labor with a wink and a nod. Everything changed after 9/11, when a government directive required the “special registration” of men ages 16 to 65 who had entered the country on temporary visas from a list of predominantly Muslim countries, including Indonesia. If they did not register, it was understood, they would be considered terrorist fugitives.

Most of the Indonesian Christians complied, on the advice of pastors. They hoped that honesty would open a path to legal status rather than deportation to their homeland, where many had faced discrimination and sectarian violence.

Instead, their appeals for asylum were denied in most cases, some through inattention by inept or overburdened lawyers. And those who registered became easy targets when national immigration politics demanded a crackdown.

During the 2006 raid, Mr. Assa hid in a closet when immigration agents came to the door, as his wife covered their daughter’s mouth. For two weeks afterward, they and others slept at the church.

About 50 men were eventually deported, typically after lengthy stays in immigration jails, leaving wives struggling to support American-born children. “We were shocked, but we were kind of paralyzed,” the pastor said.

On Jan. 12, the detention of one of their own spurred the congregation to action. Harry Pangemanan, a popular Bible study leader, was picked up by immigration agents as he left for work as a warehouse supervisor. He and his wife, Mariyana, parents of two American-born daughters, were the only Indonesians among the 300 people in the main congregation.

Church members organized daily visits to the detention center, a 40-minute drive away in Elizabeth, N.J., while the pastor appealed to Congressional and immigration offices. When Mr. Pangemanan reached out with his Bible to fellow detainees, the congregation visited them, too. Appalled to find asylum-seekers behind barbed wire and plexiglass, they began holding vigils outside the center, run for profit by the Corrections Corporation of America.

Some church members resisted. “As a construction worker who is directly affected by immigration, it’s very hard,” said Rich Lord, 39. “I felt like, they’re taking my jobs away.”

But his union and his faith changed his mind, he said: “There’s pregnant women so desperate in Mexico that they’re willing to cross the desert so their child will be born in the United States. And as a Christian, I have to remember that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to flee their homeland.”

Then, at 5 a.m. on March 31, came bad news: Mr. Pangemanan was being put on a plane to Indonesia. The pastor threw on his clerical collar and ran through Newark Liberty International Airport in a frantic search for the right gate, determined to pray with his friend before he was sent away.

By the time the pastor found the flight, the passengers had already boarded. As he tells the story, he prayed at the gate, so visibly upset that an airline worker let him on the plane.

Mr. Pangemanan was in the last row between two immigration agents — bound not for Jakarta but for a detention center in Tacoma, Wash. — when he saw his pastor coming down the aisle. An astonished agent asked, “How did this guy get in here?”

“And I just put my finger up,” Mr. Pangemanan recalled, pointing heavenward.

The agents let them pray briefly; the pastor said goodbye but vowed to keep trying. Back at the church, he phoned every number on the immigration agency’s Web site.

He still cherishes the recording of the only message that came back, from Dora B. Schriro, who has since left the agency but was then special detention adviser to Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security. Within a week of their conversation, Mr. Pangemanan was back in New Jersey with his family, his case under reconsideration by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

When immigration agents arrested several more Indonesian men in late September, church leaders took their effort to a new level, meeting with Scott Weber, director of the detention and removal field office in New Jersey, and agency envoys from Washington.

David J. Venturella, acting director of the agency’s national detention and removal operations, said he approved the discussions. “We encourage all of our field office directors to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “This is a perfect example.”

Mr. Weber rejected the ministers’ proposal for a church-run alternative to detention, but offered his own: In groups of 5 or 10, twice a week, the church could bring in the Indonesians they vouched for, and lawyers committed to the lengthy process of seeking their full case files.

Unless something was amiss — a hidden criminal conviction, a false address — the former fugitives could walk out the same day. Even before the details were arranged, Mr. Weber released four recent Indonesian detainees, one a Muslim.

Amy Gottlieb, immigrant rights director for the American Friends Service Committee in New Jersey, who has been dealing with the field office since 1996, called it “an amazing moment.”

“One, you just never believe that ICE is going to work with you on anything, given the history,” she said. “And given the intensive arrest efforts for the last two or three years, it’s hard to believe that people are ready to recognize that every single case has a human angle.”

Rex Chen, the supervising lawyer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, remains more pessimistic, likening himself to a financial adviser who warns, “This mutual fund could collapse.”

While the arrangement may buy the Indonesians a year or two, he said, unless grounds are found to reopen their cases, or Congress changes immigration law, they could find “they just moved up from not known, to on the list, to you’re taking the steps up to the airplane.”

There are no guarantees, acknowledged Melinda Basaran, another participating lawyer and chairwoman of the New Jersey chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. But many of the Indonesian wives, who did not have to register after 9/11, will soon have been here 10 years without drawing official attention, making them eligible to apply for green cards.

The more pressing question is who is included in the supervised release, said Joan Pinnock, another lawyer involved. Word of mouth has brought calls from Washington State, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where many Indonesians fled after the New Jersey raid — and where their detention and deportation continues unabated. But Newark immigration authorities have ruled out their return to New Jersey.

“I would love to get this for my Jamaican clients,” Ms. Pinnock said, echoing others who pointed to different groups, like the many Muslims affected by special registration.

On a recent Wednesday night, in a church meeting room hung with the quilts of four generations of grandmothers, fathers restored to their families thanked God and the congregation.

“I’m proud of my church,” Mr. Pangemanan said. “Not just the pastor, the whole church.”

Dec 8, 2009

Dec 7 Request to DHS and DOS for the Termination of NSEERS

Dear Secretary Clinton and Secretary Napolitano:

We are writing to request that your departments terminate the National Security Entry‐Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Implemented in the wake of September 11, 2001, NSEERS required non‐immigrant males from predominantly Muslim‐majority countries to register at ports of entry and at local immigration offices‐‐where they were fingerprinted, photographed, and subjected to lengthy questioning. Although certain registration requirements have been suspended,1 noncompliance with the program can still subject individuals to severe penalties.2 Among others,3 such individuals include those who were in the process of adjusting their status to become U.S. lawful permanent residents, but were denied adjustment because they did not register due to lack of knowledge or fear of the program or due to late registration;4 and those who were removed from the U.S. when they registered, though they had families and/or pending immigration benefits applications in the U.S.

Foreign Policy Implications

NSEERS has damaged your departments’ outreach efforts to our nation’s foreign allies and to Arab‐American, Muslim American and South Asian‐American communities in the United States. The very structure of the program ‐ explicitly targeting males based on their religion, national origin and nationality ‐ reinforced the perception that Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians were being targeted by the United States.5 From a foreign policy perspective, NSEERS left an unfortunate but lasting imprint. Many of our close allies were “opposed to having their nationals subject to NSEERS registration.”6 Moreover, fewer visitors from NSEERS countries are coming to the United States, even as travel has largely recovered from most countries in the world to near pre‐9/11 levels.7 This has meant that significantly fewer Arab and Muslim visitors are having “the opportunity to observe first hand the unique nature of American democracy and freedom and [returning] to their countries as good‐will ambassadors for the U.S.”8 However, good‐will ambassadors rate the United States approximately 25 to 30 percentage points more favorably than those who have not visited the U.S.9 Increasing the number of tourist, business and student visitors from these countries would help to break down misconceptions about the U.S., enhance our national security, and fuel the economy.

Domestic Impact and Costs

Domestically, NSEERS was created as a counterterrorism tool. However, there is no clear evidence that NSEERS has made our nation any safer, a conclusion reached in a thorough investigation by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.10 Additionally, profiles of individuals currently impacted by NSEERS indicate that the program has not focused on high‐risk individuals.11 With counterterrorism being one of the top priorities for the Department of Homeland Security, we strongly recommend that scarce resources be focused on high‐risk individuals and not on NSEERS registrants, many of whom have no criminal backgrounds, have very strong equities in our nation, and have made significant contributions to their communities. The costs incurred with NSEERS have far outweighed any counterterrorism benefits. For instance, the haphazard treatment of late NSEERS registrants has been very costly not only for the individuals but for both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.12

Conclusion and Recommendations

We believe that the continuing problems with NSEERS can only be remedied by terminating the program and providing reprieve for well‐intentioned individuals impacted by NSEERS.13 Terminating the program would go a long way towards improving public diplomacy efforts with the Arab and Muslim worlds; ensuring that potential U.S. citizens impacted by the residual effects of NSEERS are provided relief so that they are capable of enriching our great nation as future Arab‐ Americans, Muslim‐Americans and South Asian‐Americans; and in signaling a shift away from ineffective policies that involve racial and religious profiling. Recent developments have suggested a growing momentum for finally resolving the issues created by NSEERS.14 We urge you to end this ineffective program.

Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this letter. If you have any questions, please contact Nawar Shora, Legal Director at the American‐ Arab Anti‐Discrimination Committee and Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Clinical Professor and Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

American‐Arab Anti‐Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)
Arab American Institute (AAI)
National Immigration Forum (NIF)
Rights Working Group (RWG)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Clinical Professor and Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights, Penn State Dickinson School of Law15

1 Department of Homeland Security, Suspending the 30‐Day and Annual Interview Requirements from the Special Registration Process for Certain Nonimmigrants, 68 Fed. Reg. 67578 (Dec. 2, 2003).
2 See id.; see also Immigration and Naturalization Service, Registration of Certain Nonimmigrant Aliens from Designated Countries, 67 Fed. Reg. 67766 (Nov. 6, 2002) (“A willful failure to comply with the requirements of this Notice constitutes a failure to maintain nonimmigrant status under section 237 (a)(1)(C)(i) of the [Immigration and Nationality] Act”).
3 See the American‐Arab Anti‐Discrimination Comm. and the Ctr. for Immigrations’ Rights at Penn State Dickinson School of Law, NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s Efforts to Secure Its Borders 6‐7 (2009),
4 Some individuals did not register as there was a “lack of awareness by the public and affected communities about the NSEERS rule and the remaining requirements.” Moreover, “whether the government’s release of special registration through publications in the Federal Register constitutes adequate notice” is still in question. See id. at 20.
5 See Department of Homeland Security, Roundtable on Security and Liberty: Perspectives of Young Leaders Post-9/11 Washington, D.C.: Report For Government Officials and Policy Makers, (last visited Dec. 6, 2009) (Young leaders from the Post‐9/11 communities believe that “NSEERS […] disproportionately target[s] their communities.”).
6 National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Staff Report, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel 159 (2004),
7 See Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Immigration Policy 25 (Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. 2009), available at (For instance, “in 2008, the number of visas issued to nationals of Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia remained well below their pre‐9/11 levels, in some cases half or less.”).
8 Letter from the Senators Durbin and Feingold, and late Senator Kennedy to the Honorable Tom Ridge, January 23, 2004.
9 See Council on Foreign Relations, supra note 7, at 24.
10 See National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, supra note 6, at 157‐60.
11 See the American‐Arab Anti‐Discrimination Comm. and the Ctr. for Immigrations’ Rights at Penn State Dickinson School of Law, supra note 3, at 25‐26.
12 Posting of Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia to Race Matters blog,‐on‐late‐nseers‐registration.html (Nov. 19, 2009) (“This wastes precious EOIR resources, and moreover reflects a poor judgment or failure of DHS to exercise prosecutorial discretion prudently and favorably toward individuals who present strong equities.”).
13 See the American‐Arab Anti‐Discrimination Comm. and the Ctr. for Immigrations’ Rights at Penn State Dickinson School of Law, supra note 3, at 38‐39.
14 See Press Release, American‐Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, Office of Inspector General at DHS to Audit NSEERS at the Request of ADC and Other Major Organizations (Nov. 19, 2009), ; see also Robert Bonner & Edward Alden, The Wrong Way to Screen Visitors, Wash. Post, Nov. 21, 2009, available at
15 Affiliation listed for informational purposes only.

NSEERS: Wrong Then, Still Wrong Now -- Submitted by Priya Murthy, SAALT

Mohammad Sarfaraz Hussain

Mohammad Sarfaraz Hussain of Queens, New York, was an 18-year-old Pakistani immigrant who came to New York at age seven to visit his mother who was dying of cancer. Shortly after his mother died, his father in Pakistan passed away just as they were on the verge of getting their immigration papers. Having no family left in Pakistan, Mohammad stayed in Queens with his uncle for more than a decade. Mohammad became a popular high school athlete with goals of attending college and playing professional basketball. In 2003, however, his life changed after he complied with NSEERS. Upon registering, he was ordered to be deported. Mohammad was due to appear before an immigration judge, when Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, fortunately, intervened and urged for dismissing the deportation case. As a result, Mohammad was permitted to remain in the United States. While Mohammad was one of the lucky ones, thousands of others faced another fate in deportation proceedings. (Story featured in the film “Whose Children Are These?”)

Mr. A.

Originally from Pakistan, Mr. A. was a legally blind elderly gentleman who resided in Brooklyn. He came to the United States to seek medical treatment for his blindness and was living here for over ten years. He subsequently overstayed his visa and became undocumented. Then, in the winter of 2003, he learned of NSEERS at a town hall meeting with government officials. At the meeting, he was encouraged to register and learned that this may legalize his status. Subsequently, Mr. A. appeared for NSEERS and, to his surprise, was detained by immigration officials due to his status. During his detention he was held in a highly air-conditioned room in winter, told to remove his warm clothing, and has his passport confiscated. Lacking any identification or immigration status, Mr. A. was unable to obtain necessary medical treatment for his eyes. Following his detention, he was placed in removal proceedings. (Story collected by one of SAALT’s community partner organizations in New York City)

Abu Hasan Mahmud Parvez

Abu Hasan Mahmud Parvez is a native and citizen of Bangladesh who entered the United States on a diplomatic visa and was later granted a student visa. He then married a Bangladeshi woman, who was in the process of applying for a green card, and together they had a United States citizen son. However, Parvez was placed in removal proceedings due to a visa overstay, even after complying with NSEERS. (Story featured in “NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s Efforts to the Secure Its Borders” report)

The impact is clear and it is time to terminate the program and reassess what the costs were – in terms of dollars and cents, loss of community trust, and the devastating impact on individuals and families. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), along with many other organizations, welcomes the recent announcement of the audit of NSEERS by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. From the lack of efficacy as the counter-terrorism tool it was purported to be to the high volume of deportations resulting from minor immigration violations, this program has long deserved closer scrutiny and accountability. While the details of the audit's parameters are yet to be seen, we look forward to seeing a full accounting of the program and the members of the South Asians, Arab and Muslim community members it has affected.

Priya Murthy is the Policy Director at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national, nonprofit organization that amplifies the voices and perspectives of South Asians in national policy dialogues, and strengthens the leadership of South Asian organizations and individuals. SAALT also coordinates the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 39 community-based organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of South Asians around the country on various issues, including NSEERS.

Dec 2, 2009

NSEERS Story Submitted by J. Doe, November 2009

I first entered the US on an F-1 visa in January 2000. I did my Masters degree in Computer Science at Michigan State University, and I got my degree in May 2001. A few weeks before graduation I accepted an employment offer at Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, WA. After graduation I worked for about a year on my F-1 visa according to the optional practical training program, then I applied for my first H-1B visa.

Due to all the immigration policy changes that came into effect after September 2001 I had to get my H-1 B visa stamp from my country of origin (Egypt). I went to Egypt on vacation in July 2002, and I applied for the visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate in Cairo a few days after my arrival. At that point I had been living in the US for about 2 years and a half, but still the background check process took about 4 months. Of course I couldn't go back to the US until I got the visa stamp in November 2002. Fortunately I was able to work remotely from the Microsoft office in Cairo for those 4 months.

Almost three years later my visa was about to expire and I had to apply for a new one. Again I applied for that visa while on vacation in Egypt in September 2005. I was thrilled to get that visa in less than a week. However, that same visa was cancelled a few days later by an immigration officer at the SeaTac airport because of an NSEERS violation.

I was aware that being an Egyptian citizen I had to register at an immigration office every time I had to leave the US. I did it only once, and the whole experience was too r[i]diculous that I decided not to register before departure again. Putting the obvious discriminatory nature of the NSEERS program aside, the immigration officers didn't know how to use the system, the system was too slow and the officers were kind of surprised when I showed up to register. Of course I had no choice when it came to registering at arrival time. That day in early October 2005 I arrived at the SeaTac airport after a very long trip, and I had to wait for about an hour for an immigration officer to go through the NSEERS regist[]ration process. It took the officer about one more hour to figure out that I didn't register on my way out of the US, and that according to the US immigration law I was not admiss[i]ble to the US. I was too tired to complain, so I stayed calm and decided to fly to any Canadian city (I had a valid Canadian visa) to spend the night and contact Microsoft to see if this problem can be resolved. However, the immigration officer told me I had to fly back to Cairo and not anywhere else, but I insisted on my right to go wherever I want. After a few hours of negotiations and t[e]dious paperwork, the officer allowed me to enter the US with a 2-week parole document (after my US visa was cancelled). I was finally able to leave the airport after about 9 hours of the arrival of my flight.

When I got home I contacted my boss and told him the whole story and that I can't come to work because I am not eligible to work while on that parole status. The following day Microsoft hired me an immigration lawyer who spent about an hour with me and heard the story. He contacted the immigration office at SeaTac later that day and got all the legal details he wanted from them. The following day he called me and told me all I had to do is to stand in front of an immigration judge and promise not to violate NSEERS anymore. The only other alternative was to leave the US by the end of the parole period.

I thought about the whole situation overnight. I had a promising career, lots of friends and many great memories in the US, but being treated as a “high risk individual” only because of where I come from was an insult that I couldn't accept. Even worse, that same federal government that thinks I'm a threat happily takes tens of thousands of dollars from my paycheck every year in income taxes. The following day I called my lawyer and told him I will quit my job, pack and leave.

My career was interrupted for a few months, but eventually things went back on track. I currently live and work in Canada, and I never regret my decision to leave the US. I am sure NSEERS will be cancelled one day, if not because of its shameful discriminatory nature then because it is a big waste of time and money. Only then I will be able to drive to the Michi[g]an State campus (which is about 3 hours from where I currently live) and relive the great memories I had there.