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American Muslim

Newsflash – February 7, 2004

Muslims feel excluded from Bush immigration plan


LODI, N.J. Feb. 7, 2004 (AP) — When Ibrahim Baker heard President Bush wants to let illegal immigrants work here legally for three years, he was excited at first. But the Clifton auto mechanic soon felt the president's plan to "extend a welcoming hand to those whose presence will benefit our nation and our economy" would not help him.

A law requiring men from certain nations suspected of harboring terrorism to register with the government tripped up the 48-year-old Baker, who is being deported to his native Jordan because he overstayed a tourist visa. There is no such requirement for illegal immigrants from Mexico or other Latin American nations.

A White House spokesman said Bush's proposal does not differentiate among illegal workers by nationality, and would apply equally to anyone in this country illegally who holds a job that no American citizen has been willing to take.

But Muslim groups say the plan is aimed more at Mexican and Latino immigrants who illegally crossed the border — and settled in electorally crucial states. "I understand that what Mr. Bush did was catering to the Latino and Mexican populations in areas where he needs votes," said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab-American News in Dearborn, Mich. "Definitely it was not something that takes Arab-Americans or Muslims into account. My problem is that Mr. Bush is catering to a certain segment of the illegal population while ignoring another segment."

Critics of the proposal also claim Muslims who came to this country legally but wound up overstaying visas face deportation risks that Mexicans and others do not, such as the special registration program.

Against the advice of friends, Baker complied with the special registration program last April. Immigration officials quickly saw that Baker had overstayed his visa, took him into custody, and began the process of deporting him. He is likely to be sent back home to Jordan in early April, according to his lawyer, Sohail Mohammed, who called the Bush proposal discriminatory.

Kimberly Zanotti, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services Newark office, said failing to register under the program leads to a loss of legal status, and exposes a person to possible deportation.

Neither she nor White House spokesman Ken Lisaius could say whether Bush's proposal would help immigrants whose deportation proceedings have already begun, or those at risk of deportation. Lisaius said details are still being worked out with members of Congress. (The Associated Press)