US Armenian push prompts INS policy shift

LOS ANGELES: Armenian Americans launched an emergency public affairs campaign last month that succeeded in removing their home country from a controversial government list that requires male visitors from targeted nations to register with the INS.

LOS ANGELES: Armenian Americans launched an emergency public affairs campaign last month that succeeded in removing their home country from a controversial government list that requires male visitors from targeted nations to register with the INS.

On December 13, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a DC-based political organization, was informed that Armenia was one of the countries whose visitors were considered a terrorist risk under a new INS policy. Male nonimmigrants over the age of 16 from listed nations, including Pakistan and other Middle Eastern locales, are required to report to INS offices around the country for a special registration. Many who reported were arrested on visa violations, sparking debate and protests.

Determined to change the policy, the ANCA staged a three-pronged campaign, and adopted the strategy that including Armenia was simply a mistake that needed to be brought to the attention the government.

"Our whole approach from day one was this was obviously an error, and it was made by lower-level people," said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. "This wasn't a matter of protesting so much as drawing attention to it."

Armenian political leaders immediately began outreach to sympathetic congressional members, who were asked to contact government officials in areas such as the state department. The ANCA also conducted direct outreach to the Bush administration.

But the most successful aspect of the campaign was a grassroots effort that elicited 12,000 faxes to the White House in less than 24 hours, as well as scores of phone calls.

"The Armenian community is very highly networked," said Hamparian of the 1.5 million Armenians who live in the US, the majority in California. "The word spread like wildfire."

The ANCA had its 50-plus local chapters around the US arrange emergency meetings, e-mails, and phone trees asking community members to write letters using the ANCA website.

Community religious leaders were also tapped. "You get priests who will make sure as they talk to their parishioners on Sunday to raise the topic," said Hamparian.

By Monday, December 16, US government officials announced that Armenia would be removed from the list, and a retraction of the inclusion was printed in the Federal Register.

Now the ANCA is focusing on why the error occurred. "We have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation as to why this happened. As Armenians we're concerned that Armenia was placed on the list, but as Americans were concerned about what the process is," said Hamparian.

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