Long queues of men from 12 mainly Muslim states and North Korea formed Friday outside immigration offices across the United States to beat a registration deadline under new anti-terrorist regulations.
Many Muslim leaders, who say their community has suffered enough after the September 11 attacks in 2001, predicted the new rules will lead to new arrests.
A handful of detentions were reported in California, where hundreds of Muslim men were rounded up in December.
But rights groups say the measures are only spreading fear and will do little to track potential terrorists.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has demanded that all males aged 16 and over from the 13 nations, who do not have resident status, appear before an INS agent by Friday night to be photographed, questioned and give fingerprints.
This round of the "special registration" involves nationals from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Iranians, Iraqis, Libyans, Sudanese and Syrians had to register by December 16. Pakistanis and Saudis without resident status must go to the INS by February 21.
The registrations are required under the USA Patriot Act, passed after the September 11 terror strikes on New York and Washington, to allow authorities to track potential terrorists living in the United States.
Around 50 protesters led by US civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton protested outside the Los Angeles immigration department as foreigners registered inside.
Brandishing placards bearing slogans such as "Police state restrictions," they slammed the Patriot Act as legislation that undermined civil rights by allowing acts like last month's mass detentions.
Immigration officials arrested at least 400 people among those who came forward to meet the December 16 deadline.
Muslim organizations this time fielded scores of fluorescent yellow clad "human rights monitors" to monitor the registrations.
"There are far fewer people registering ahead of (Friday's) deadline as last time, even though citizens of more countries are required to do so," said Salman al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"That is leading many people to suspect that people may be too afraid to come in after what happened in December," he said.
Immigration service spokesman Francisco Arcaude said no figures were immediately available on numbers coming forward or of detentions made.
Officials had however beefed up guidelines dictating which foreigners should be detained in a bid to avoid the public relations debacle that followed the December detentions.
Hundreds of people also queued in freezing temperatures at the immigration service in South Manhattan in New York.
Khaled Abdel Hafid, a 28-year-old Tunisian who arrived in the United States four years ago, said: "I don't think any terrorist is going to be stupid enough to stand in line in the cold or to show up and say 'Hey, I'm here'.
"Honest people will come, and as a reward they are going to be deported. Most of the people here are illegal immigrants, people whose visas expired."
Dalia Hashad, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the immigration measures were "an incredible waste of government resources, harassing innocent men and boys.
"It's a false solution to a real problem. It's based on racial, religious and ethnic profiling."
Muslim associations started legal action last month against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the INS in a bid to stop the measures.
"The choice immigrants have is to come forward and face arrest or deportation or not to come forward and become illegal aliens," said Leila al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"We think this program does nothing to identify people who really intend to harm our nation."news.sify.com/cgi-bin/sifynews/news/content/news_fullstory_v2.jsp?article_oid=12E-mail this article