U.S. officials said yesterday that they had detained nearly 1,200 men during a special registration program for foreign visitors from 20 mostly Middle Eastern nations, nearly twice as many as they had previously acknowledged.
The 1,169 men detained, almost all for immigration violations, were among thousands of foreign nationals who heeded deadlines in December and January to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Some were held for just a few hours, released and ordered to appear for deportation hearings. Others were held overnight, and about 170 are still in custody, a senior Justice Department official said.
The statistics were released as the government added five countries -- Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait -- to the list of 20 whose male citizens, 16 and older, must register and be fingerprinted.
Because widespread fear and confusion about the program dampened turnout before separate registration deadlines last month and last week, the government also is giving thousands of men from 18 other nations another chance to register. Those men, from nations that include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Morocco and Yemen, will be allowed to enroll between Jan. 27 and Feb. 7.
The government says the registrations are a way to track tens of thousands of visitors from countries that the United States has designated sponsors of terrorism or that are believed to harbor large numbers of members of al Qaeda.