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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Inhumane' Conditions for Muslims

LOS ANGELES -- Hundreds of Muslim men and boys are being subjected to strip searches in freezing, standing room only detention centers in southern California after being arrested for routine visa irregularities, immigration lawyers said.

They estimated that between 1,000 and 2,500 mostly Iranian males, some as young as 16, have been locked up in what they called inhumane conditions after voluntarily presenting themselves at immigration offices to register under new anti-terrorism rules.

Justice Department officials in Washington, breaking a weeklong silence on the arrests, said 227 people had been detained in California for overstaying their visas under a post-Sept. 11 program that requires men over 16, without permanent residence status, from 20 Arab or Muslim countries to register with authorities.

A coalition of nine civil liberties groups called on the Justice Department to scrap the "flawed and misguided" scheme, saying it did nothing to enhance security and "damaged America's global image."

California Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman said she was "greatly disturbed" by the detentions, saying the arrests of people who voluntarily complied "is arguably legal entrapment."

The official figures on the number of detentions differed widely from anecdotal evidence in the Los Angeles area where families reported that scores of husbands, brothers and fathers had spent most of this week locked up and treated like criminals.

"In one center, they were ordered to strip down and given a strip search. They were only given a prison jumpsuit, without any underwear, T-shirts, socks or shoes. They were not given blankets. They are freezing," lawyer Sohelia Jonoubi said.

Iranian-American Lawyers Association president Kayhan Shakib said: "These people are being held in inhumane conditions. ... We don't know how many. We have estimated anywhere between 1,000 to 2,500 detained in southern California."

"On what we have come to call Black Friday [last week], they arrested so many Iranians in the Los Angeles INS office that they ran out of handcuffs," said Babak Sotoodeh, president of the Alliance of Iranian-Americans.

Most of the detainees were Iranians living in Los Angeles County and neighboring Orange County, which in the past 20 years have become home to some 600,000 Iranian exiles.

Lawyers battling to get the men released on bail said the majority were law-abiding immigrants who were in the process of getting U.S. green cards under lengthy INS procedures.

Monday was the registration deadline for men from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan. Deadlines are approaching for 15 other countries listed by the Justice Department.