Armenian Caucus Asks for Explanation on INS Issue

WASHINGTON–DC–The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed today a Congressional Armenian Caucus letter requesting a formal explanation from the Attorney General–by January 15–2002–on the erroneous inclusion and subsequent removal of Armenia from an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) program that would have required all Armenian males legally working or studying in the United States to take part in an extensive registration process.

"We appreciate the leadership of Congressmen Knollenberg and Pallone and join with all Armenian Americans in thanking our friends in Congress who played such a crucial role in reversing this obvious error," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We are gratified that this matter has been resolved–although we remain deeply troubled that a public policy error of this magnitude could move so far through the process–to the actual point of being published in the Federal Register as an official government regulation. Clearly–we all deserve a full explanation of exactly how this happened."

In a press release issued today–Caucus Co-Chairs–Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–explained that the letter requested "not only a full explanation of the mistake–but also any information on future immigration plans that would impact tens of thousands of Armenia’s now in the US" The release also noted that–"Armenia’s inclusion [on Friday–December 13th] was seriously questioned last weekend–but was in writing by Monday morning in the Federal Register–the government’s record of regulations. Later that day–the Justice Department said it had made a mistake–and Armenia would not be added to the list." This reversal was later reflected in a subsequent Department of Justice document published in the Federal Register.

The Bush Administration’s decision to reverse itself came after extensive discussions between Congressional friends of Armenia–Administration officials–the Armenian Government–and Armenian American community leaders–as well as a broad-based grassroots campaign initiated by the ANCA to alert President Bush to the gravity of the Armenian American community’s concerns on this matter.

Within the first 24 hours of issuing an action alert–over 10,000 ANCA WebFaxes and WebMails were sent to the President expressing the Armenian American community’s profound opposition to this action. The ANCA–along with a broad-based coalition of Armenian American groups–worked to resolve this issue with senior Administration officials–Armenian Americans with close ties to the White House–the Congressional Armenian Caucus–and key foreign policy figures.

Major media throughout the United States cited the ANCA’s activism.

The Fresno Bee–reporting on the ANCA’s grassroots campaign–described its "Internet-based lobbying effort–which in just one day bounced some 10,000 protest faxes to the White House–of which an estimated 60 percent came from California. The organization has also been mobilizing calls to both the White House and the 100-plus members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues." The paper quoted ANCA’s Hamparian as saying that "the one thing that struck me about this was the speed with which the Armenian community responded. We’ve never gotten a 24-hour response like this."

In a separate article–the Fresno paper quoted ANC-Fresno chairwoman Hygo Ohanessian as saying–"you don’t know how glad I am that the Armenian community responded quickly on this because now the Bush administration knows Armenia’s will react to anything negative being said or done towards Armenia."

Other coverage of the Armenian American community’s grassroots activism on this issue included: – The New York Times–on December 18th–reported that "the turnabout–on Tuesday–followed loud complaints from the government of Armenia and Armenian groups in the United States." – The December 18th USA Today–noted that–"Armenia was dropped after Armenian-American activists jammed the White House’s fax line with thousands of letters of complaint." – The St. Louis Post-Dispatch–in a December 18th article that quoted the local ANCA chairman in the St. Louis area–Steve Hagopian–reported that "after a deluge of faxes to the White House from Armenian-Americans–the Justice Department today [removed] Armenia from a list of nations whose visiting citizens must be fingerprinted under new anti-terrorism measures". – The Los Angeles Times–on December 18th–explained that the "requirement sent the nation’s 1.5 million Armenian Americans into a frenzy–and California–home to half of them–led the outrage campaign. Californians sent more than half the 10,000 letters of protests filed with the White House over the weekend." This story included quotes from quotes ANCA-Western Regional office and the publisher of the California Courier Harut Sassounian. – The St. Petersburg Sun-Sentinal reported on December 18th that "when the word went out that Armenia’s were to be added to the list of foreigners required to register under a new national security program–Armenian-Americans sprung into action. . . The Armenian National Committee of America says a weekend action alert resulted in 10,000 faxes sent to the White House in 24 hours and that the Armenian government and "congressional friends" held extensive talks with the Bush administration." – On December 17th–Radio Free Europe reported that–"the Armenian National Committee of America–suggested that the move’s reversal resulted–among other things–from its "action alert," saying that its supporters sent over 10,000 protest letters to the White House in a matter of 24 hours."

Commenting after Armenia’s removal–Rep. Pallone said–"I am pleased to see that Armenia is no longer included on a list of countries that would have forced Armenian nationals to unfair interviews and interrogation from the Justice Department. I strongly believe there was no basis for the Justice Department to back such a move."

Armenia was one of the first countries to join with the United States in the global war on terrorism. Recognizing this fact–President Bush–in April of this year–made a point of underlining the American people’s appreciation of this cooperation and the enduring partnership between the American and Armenian peoples.

December 20–2002

Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:

We were very pleased to learn of your decision to make a correction on an official Justice Department memo issued on Monday. Armenia’s inclusion on a list of countries under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)–requiring male nationals aged 16 and older to specially register with the INS was very troubling to the Members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. We were told that this initial inclusion of Armenia was an administrative mistake. We are very concerned not only that a mistake with such obvious ramifications like this can be made–but that these mistakes could also happen in the future. With that in mind–we respectfully ask that you answer the following requests in written form:

– We would like a full explanation about of the reasons of your decision to add Armenia to the NSEERS list and its subsequent removal. – A written explanation of the plans for implementing the NSEERS system from now into the future–in general and also specifically regarding Armenia.

– What is the plan to educate the various ethnic communities within the United States of their legal status if they fall under this NSEERS requirement?

– Is it the intent of the Department of Justice to apply retroactive "call-ins" for all nonimmigrant aliens from all countries?

– How are foreign policy ramifications taken into consideration when making decisions about implementation?

– Will this policy apply to all countries–or only specific countries?

We look forward to hearing your response to these questions before January 15–2003. This information will provide a valuable service in educating the Armenian community in the United States with crucial information on how best to continue to cooperate with Federal government policy.

38 Signatories of Armenian Caucus

Letter to the Attorney General:

Allen–Thomas (D-ME)
Brown–Sherrod (D-OH)
Capuano–Michael (D-MA)
Costello–Jerry (D-IL)
Crowley–Joseph (D-NY)
Doggett–Lloyd (D-TX)
Dooley–Calvin M. (D-CA)
Farr–Sam (D-CA)
Filner–Bob (D-CA)
Frank–Barney (D-CA)
Hinchey–Maurice (D-NY)
Hoeffel–Joseph (D-PA)
Honda–Michael (D-CA)
Hoyer–Steny (D-NY)
Israel–Steve (D-NY)
Kennedy–Patrick (R-RI)
Kilpatrick–Carolyn (D-MI)
Knollenberg–Joe (R-MI)
Langevin–James (D-RI)
Levin–Sander (D-MI)
Markey–Edward (D-MA)
McCollum–Betty (D-MN)
McGovern–James (D-MA)
McNulty–Michael (D-NY)
Meehan–Martin (D-MA)
Norton–Eleanor Holmes (D-DC)
Pallone–Frank–Jr. (D-NJ)
Radanovich–George (R-CA)
Rothman–Steven (D-NJ)
Roybal-Allard–Lucille (D-CA)
Saxton–Jim (R-NJ)
Souder–Mark (R-IN)
Sweeney–John (R-NY)
Towns–Edolphus (D-NY)
Visclosky–Peter (D-IN)
Watson–Diane (D-CA)
Woolsey–Lynn (D-MD)
Wynn–Albert Russell (D-MD)

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