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Ashcroft's invisible man, take two

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Yared Woldu has gone missing again.

The Decatur man, whom CL wrote about in February, first disappeared in January, when he was arrested and detained as part of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's "special registration." Woldu's east African provenance Eritrea was among the 20-plus nations (all predominantly Muslim, except North Korea) whose natives Ashcroft was demanding be questioned, fingerprinted, catalogued and tracked.

Woldu was arrested and locked for a week in an Alabama jail. Such random and inexplicable detainments have become a hallmark of special registration, a program made possible by the USA PATRIOT Act.

As a condition of his release from detainment camp, Woldu paid monthly visits to the immigrations bureau in Atlanta. During his Aug. 21 visit, he was arrested again and hauled back to the Etowah County jail. As of Sept. 15, he was still locked up.

Dahlia French, Woldu's attorney, describes his detainment as the product of a clerical error warped grotesquely out of context by the unique powers bestowed by the PATRIOT Act.

Basically, Woldu missed a 1998 first-appearance hearing because his address was incorrectly listed, French says. Woldu was due to explain at the hearing why his 1996 application for political asylum should permit him to overstay his visa. It was a formality, and one Woldu soon cleared up, according to French. He was in the country legally when he married an American three years later.

But under special registration guidelines, Woldu's pending political asylum application and his pending green card mattered not. He had missed a hearing, and that was a red enough flag to start deportation proceedings.

"I want a degree of safety, too, but not at the expense of destroying my family," says Woldu's wife Pamela, a native Atlantan.

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