Thousands in Los Angeles
protest mass arrests by INS
Demand release of Iranians, others
jailed as they lined up to register
Protesters at December 19 rally in Los Angeles condemn mass detentions at INS office|
BY NAN BAILEY
LOS ANGELES--Chanting "Free our people now!" several thousand angry protesters, mostly Iranians, demonstrated December 18 in front of the Westwood Federal Building here to demand the release of the 500 or more who had been arrested at the offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Thousands of people, including some who were applicants to become permanent residents, had showed up to comply with a new federal order requiring men from specified Middle Eastern and Asian countries holding temporary residency permits to register with the INS. Instead, many were handcuffed and herded into detention facilities, often without even beds to sleep on.
Demonstrators carried signs saying, "Unconstitutional Detention = Racism," and "What’s Next? Concentration Camps?" referring to the incarceration of thousands of Japanese-Americans by the Roosevelt administration immediately following the declaration of war against Japan.
The emergency demonstration, publicized by word of mouth in the Iranian community here, had been called less than a day earlier. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has the largest Iranian population in the country.
The next day, in face of the protests, the INS began releasing some of those jailed.
Those who were locked up had complied with a federal order by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Males over the age of 16 born in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Libya and who entered the United States by September 10 of this year were required to submit to being fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated by federal agents or face deportation.
The order was directed at immigrants on temporary visas. Those arrested, however, include many with green card applications pending who assumed they were protected under the law while they waited for the INS to finish processing their paperwork, even though in some cases their visas had expired.
"It’s like the roundup of Japanese during World War II," said Adel Hajrasilihd, whose brother was required to register.
"All of our fundamental civil rights have been violated by these actions," said Ban Al-Wardi, an attorney who saw 14 of 20 her clients arrested when she accompanied them to register.
Kourosh Reyhanyfar, 39, who works as a window installer, was one of those arrested. A British citizen born in Iran, Reyhanyfar said he heard about the new INS reporting requirements on the radio. He and his wife came to this country on tourist visas in 1999 and decided to stay, applying for extensions every six months. In the middle of the third extension, they took advantage of a change in the law and paid $1,000 each to apply for a green card. They received work permits, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses.
When Reyhanyfar took off work from his construction job and reported to the INS, "They asked why I didn’t complete the third visa extension, and I explained the situation. I did this, I did that, we got work permits, and now we are waiting for our green cards," he said. The answer didn’t satisfy the INS cops. Reyhanyfar was handcuffed and taken to a holding area. "We went from the eighth floor to the basement, past many people, and it was humiliating to be in handcuffs."
Fifteen hours later, around 3:00 a.m., Reyhanyfar was fingerprinted and put into a bus and taken to the INS jail in Lancaster, California. There, he explained, he was strip-searched, his belongings were confiscated, and he was put in a 50-bed barracks. After being held three days, he was released on $1,500 bail and is now awaiting a court hearing to determine whether he will get a green card or be deported.
"It was a nightmare," he said. "I wasn’t angry so much as shocked and humiliated."
His wife, Sepideh Reyhanyfar, one of the thousands who demonstrated December 19 outside the federal building, held a sign that said, "Whatever happened to liberty and justice for all?"
Attorney Soheila Jonoubi said she saw a 16-year old pulled from the arms of his crying mother. Jonoubi said the mother had permanent resident status and that her husband, the boy’s stepfather, is a U.S. citizen. The teenager came to this country in July on a student visa and was on track to gain permanent residence, she said.
Some of those arrested were hosed down with cold water before finding places to sleep on the concrete floors of cells, reported Shawn Sedaghat, an attorney who represents more than 40 people who voluntarily went to register and were detained.
"We have rights, and we will not go away simply because we are not citizens," said Tareef Nashashibi, president of the Arab-American Republican Club of Orange County, at a December 20 protest of 450 people at the Sequoia Conference Center.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations of Southern California, said, "This new McCarthyism against Muslims must end. Are you going to deport us all?"
Other groups participating in that protest meeting included the American Civil Liberties Union, League of United Latin American Citizens, Los Angeles County Bar Association, National Lawyers Guild, and the Japanese American Citizens League.
Barry Schier contributed to this article.
INS registration requirement targets temporary residents from 20 nations