The Acting District Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Services (I.N.S.) has assured local immigration lawyers and the ACLU that foreign citizens called in for questioning during the next few weeks will be permitted to bring their attorneys with them.

The INS has summoned citizens of several countries – including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Libya – to participate in mandatory registration interviews over the next few weeks. Failure to comply can result in deportation. Concerns arose when several local immigration lawyers were told they could not accompany their clients to the interviews. Federal law provides a right to bring private counsel during such meetings.

In separate contacts with the I.N.S., David Leopold, a leading Cleveland immigration attorney, and ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari demanded that the INS clarify its policy and allow lawyers to accompany registrants. In a letter faxed to the ACLU late Wednesday, I.N.S. Acting District Director Linda Rabbett confirmed that the Cleveland I.N.S. District office would respect the right of registrants to be represented by counsel.

The Cleveland incident highlights growing concern nationwide that legal aliens have been subject to widespread interrogation by federal law enforcement agents, often without being apprised of or understanding their right to counsel. “The denial of counsel is always extremely serious, and should never have happened. This incident points out the need for vigilance regarding how these programs are implemented,” said Robin Goldfaden, a staff counsel for Immigrants' Rights Project of the national ACLU.

As part of an effort to make immigrants aware of their rights, the Ohio ACLU has worked closely with immigration lawyers and bar associations across the state to provide legal advice to those facing interrogation. Regarding this incident, Legal Director Vasvari praised the quick and positive response from the INS: “We give credit to Ms. Rabbett for her quick action to ensure that the I.N.S. in Cleveland will respect the rights of aliens. With immigrants from dozens of countries to be interviewed in the next few weeks, we must all take care to be sure these registrations occur in a just and lawful manner.”