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About 100 Queens residents and immigrants assembled in Jackson Heights on a windy, rainy Friday to protest the federal governments special registration policy that they say unfairly targets Arab, South Asian and Muslim immigrants and can lead to their arrest.
In some cases, immigrants have been detained for a long period of time or deported, the demonstrations organizers said, in the heart of Queens Indian community in Jackson Heights.
We want the detentions and deportations stopped, said Shubh Mathur, a spokeswoman for the Coney Island Avenue Project, the group that organized the event. So far, there have been between 1,200 and 3,000 people detained, questioned or deported and not one has been charged with a terrorist act.
The crowd opposed elements of a directive issued by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in November, which they said unjustly forces Arabs, South Asians and Muslims to register personal information with the federal government.
Bobby Khan, who also works for the Coney Island Project, said his organization planned its demonstration at the intersection of 73rd Street and Broadway because it is the heart of the Jackson Heights neighborhood where residents have been arrested. Many members of the Brooklyn-based organization live there.
A lot of harassment goes on in that neighborhood, he said. And a lot of business owners in the area were scared.
Queens is the countrys most ethnically diverse borough, with Asians accounting for 17.5 percent of its population and Hispanics 25 percent, according to 2000 census figures. Approximately half of the citys Asian population lives in Queens, the figures show.
In November, Ashcroft issued a Department of Justice directive forcing men and boys from 20 different countries who are over 16 and do not hold U.S. citizenship or green cards to register with the department.
During the registration process the individual is photographed, fingerprinted and questioned about his intentions in the United States, according to a fact sheet issued by the project.
The deadline to register for men who are citizens or nationals of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somali, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen is Jan. 10. The deadline for male citizens or nationals from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to register is Feb. 21, Mathur said.
The regulations are restricted to those who entered the United States prior to Oct. 1 and plan to stay in the country until at least Jan. 10. Those not required to register are U.S. citizens, females, green card holders, and people who have been granted asylum or refugee status.
Mathur, who immigrated from India to Brooklyn in 1986, said the federal government has singled out both legal and illegal immigrants in the United States, forcing them to go back to their home countries or Canada to avoid any prosecution.
We are taking the position that these dates should be held back, said Bobby Khan of the Coney Island Avenue Project about the special registration. We say its discrimination against Muslims.
Protesters shouted No justice, no peace, Restore the Constitution, Restore Freedom and Immigrants are not terrorists in front of police, who had barricaded off a small portion of the sidewalk in which the crowd had to stand.
Police said the protesters had a legal permit and were allowed to be on the city streets. The event featured multiple speakers, including Aarti Shahani, of the Immigrant Defense Project based in Manhattan, who has said her agency has been working on the issue of detaining immigrants well before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
There is a psychological element to whats going on, she said. Its a false sense of security that youre protecting people by deporting people.
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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