WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Several Muslims civil liberties groups Monday filed a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Immigration and Naturalization Service for what they say is the unlawful arrest of hundreds of Muslims.
The arrests were part of an INS campaign to register millions of aliens living in this country.
So far, visitors and long-time residents from mainly 20 Muslim countries have been ordered to register with the INS but the list could be further expanded.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, asserts the INS unlawfully arrested large numbers of people, Dec. 16 through Dec. 18 in Los Angeles as they came forward to voluntarily comply with new "special registration" requirements.
Four of the hundreds arrested as a result of the new INS policy are co-plaintiffs, along with two others who are afraid to register due to the illegal arrests.
The lawsuit takes issue with four aspects of the recent arrests and seeks an immediate injunction to avoid similar detentions during upcoming registrations.
Citizens and nationals of 13 countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are required to register by Jan. 10 while those of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are to register by Feb. 21.
The lawsuit -- filed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Alliance of Iranian Americans, Council on American Islamic-Relations, and the National Council of Pakistani Americans -- states the arrests were illegal because the government did not obtain the necessary arrest warrants.
It says it is unlawful and unjust to arrest and deport people who are eligible to apply to legalize their status based on family relationships or their employment.
Some detainees with avenues available to legalize their status are being detained without bail or bail hearings, the plaintiffs argue.
They say the fear of mass arrests created by these detentions will obviously inhibit compliance by people facing similar registration deadlines in the near future.
The Muslim advocacy groups are seeking:
1. An injunction ordering the government not to arrest any additional persons in the "special registration" process without appropriate arrest warrants as required by existing federal laws;
2. An injunction preventing the deportation of detainees who have avenues available to legalize their status; and
3. An injunction requiring that the INS not hold detainees without bond or bond hearings if the detainees have a mechanism to legalize their status.
Although the special registration policy has been presented as a national security measure designed to counter potential terrorist threats, the INS has been using the registration process to not only enforce immigration law but to arrest and deport people who have complied with the law at every stage and are on the road to becoming permanent residents, the plaintiffs say.
The effort to deport law-abiding people who could just as easily be allowed to continue the immigration process seriously undermines prospects for future compliance and constitutes an absurd waste of resources, they argue.
The mass arrests, they say, have further eroded confidence in the fairness of the INS and immigration system among Arab and Muslim communities.
Dec. 16 was the first in a series of deadlines for special registration, which are set to culminate in 2004 with the registration of all foreign nationals in the United States.
The mass arrests which took place in Los Angeles last week, and the lawsuit filed Monday, have profound significance for the future of the registration process in many immigrant communities, and immigrants' rights in general, the plaintiffs said.
The lead attorneys in the case are Peter A. Schey and Carlos R. Holguin of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. Other co-counsel include several attorneys in the ADC Legal Department, Babak Sotoodeh of AIA, Khurrum Wahid of CAIR, Joannie Chang of the Asian Law Caucus, and several California law firms.