American Muslim civil advocacy groups Thursday (Dec. 22, 2016) welcomed President Barrack Obama’s decision to permanently dismantle the regulatory framework behind the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS) also called “Special Registration.”
CNN quoted Neema Hakim, a DHS spokesman, as saying: “The Department of Homeland Security is removing outdated regulations pertaining to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS) program, with an immediate effective date.” By 2011, nearly a decade after the program was enacted, NSEERS had not resulted in a single terrorism conviction. The Department of Homeland Security determined in 2011 that the program was “redundant and did not provide any increase in security,” said Hakim.
The move by Obama administration is largely symbolic since the registry has been inactive since 2011. However, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the incoming administration has hinted that it might reinstate the program once Trump’s team takes control of DHS.
Reuters reported last month that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — an immigration hardliner reportedly advising Trump and the author of NSEERS — said there have been talks about Trump reactivating the program when he takes office. And last month, Kobach was photographed going into a meeting with Trump while holding a stack of papers that referenced NSEERS on the front page.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Legal & Policy Director Abed Ayoub states, “This is the right decision by Secretary Johnson. We commend him, and the White House, for letting it be known that such registry programs are futile and have no place in our country. However the community cannot be at ease; the next administration has indicated that they will consider implementing similar programs. We will work twice as hard to protect our community and ensure such programs do not come to fruition.”
The ADC led an effort on behalf of over 200 organizations, calling on the Obama administration to end the program. The letter, which was delivered in late November, was followed by vigorous advocacy efforts by a large coalition of community organizations, including allies from the Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities. Resources were leveraged to build a strong diverse coalition to exert pressure that ultimately led to the dismantling of the NSEERS framework.
More than 50 members of Congress had called on President Obama to eliminate the NSEERS regulatory framework, referring to it as “a waste of resources, costing American taxpayers more than $10 million annually.”
“Registering and tracking Muslim visitors to the United States is not only discriminatory but a tremendous waste of our nation’s national security resources,” said the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw. “We thank President Obama and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for finally putting an end to what was widely perceived to be a massive profiling campaign targeting individuals based on their religion and ethnicity. We also thank the many people in civil society organizations who worked tirelessly to end the program.”
“Many activists and advocacy organizations came together over the years and again recently to challenge NSEERs and encourage an end to the program. We are especially grateful for the leadership of the ADC and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) who even as recently as last week organized a march and rally in Washington, D.C. on this issue,” said CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director Zahra Billoo.
The American Muslim Voice (AMV) also welcomed Obama administration’s decision to permanently end the controversial NSEERs program. The national
President of the AMV, Khalid Saeed, in a statement said that “we thank Obama administration for formally rescinding the program which was dormant since 2011 as it was considered redundant and ineffective.” He said that the AMV also thanks to all civil advocacy groups and individuals who came together to end this program and support the seven-million strong American Muslim community in the face of anti-Muslim bigotry. Khalid Saeed said that the best example of this support was a vigil on Wednesday night at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. This pro-Muslim vigil was organized by the Jewish Voices for Peace and held simultaneously in more than 20 cities across the nation.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Thursday hailed the Obama administration’s decision to rescind the NSEERs program. However, the MPAC warned that although the framework of the program will be removed, the next administration has the authority to rebuild a dangerous NSEERS-type program from scratch. The MPAC said:
“Americans of all backgrounds must join together and prevent discriminatory policies that target any community and violate rights and liberties enshrined in the US Constitution. Today is a victory for civil liberties, but we must continue to preserve our rights by redoubling our efforts to building coalitions and engaging our elected officials.”
After 9/11, the Bush Administration instituted the NSEERS registry system that targeted individuals on national origin. Of the 25 designated countries, 24 were majority Arab or Muslim. The discriminatory NSEERS program disparately profiled Arabs and Muslims by questioning and fingerprinting individuals and registering this identifying information in a database.
President-elect Donald Trump and advisors close to him have publicly said that the Trump administration would revive and expand the federal registry that once targeted visitors mostly from Muslim-majority countries. Alarmingly, in the wake of the Berlin attack, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to a Muslim registry.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Wednesday (12/21) called on Obama to dismantle the NSEERS program. In a letter addressed to the President, Schneiderman wrote that NSEERS, created after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, did not reduce terrorist activity and instead “undermined trust” in law enforcement and instilled fear in some communities. “We can’t risk giving President-elect Trump the tools to create an unconstitutional religious registry,” Schneiderman said in a separate statement.
Schneiderman praised Obama’s decision and said: “This is a win for civil rights and for smart, effective law enforcement, as well as for the strong coalition of advocacy organizations and others who fought to dismantle this discriminatory tool,” he said. “My office will continue do everything it can to protect the rights of all New Yorkers, and ensure equal justice under the law for all, regardless of religion or national origin.”
While welcoming the end of the program, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The program was a failed counterterrorism tool, was highly discriminatory, and led to widespread fear and needless dislocation of families across the United States.”
According to the Atlantic, DHS suspended the domestic registration program in December 2003, more than a year after it had begun. By that point, according to a fact sheet released by the agency, NSEERS had garnered more than 83,500 domestic registrations, and 93,741 people had registered at ports of entry. The information gathered from registrants appears to have been transferred to newer DHS surveillance programs, but it’s not clear how it’s been used since the end of the NSEERS program, and a spokesperson for DHS did not comment on that.
By December 2003, nearly 13,800 people had been placed in deportation proceedings because of the program—but, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the program did not help the government open a single terrorist-related criminal case. The deportations broke apart families, representatives for the advocacy organizations said, and their effects reverberated far beyond the end of the domestic registration program.
When DHS phased out the domestic registration program, the agency said it was outdated compared to to newer systems like US-VISIT, a comprehensive program for tracking visitors to the U.S. from nearly every country, which is still in use today. The port-of-entry registration portion of NSEERS remained in place until 2011, until it, too, was retired in favor of newer border-security surveillance programs. They had rendered NSEERS “redundant, inefficient, and unnecessary,” the agency announced.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, former director of the Immigration Legislation Task Force at DHS, told BuzzFeed News that reinstating NSEERS would be “really easy” for Trump. “It’s just takes a new notice [from the DHS secretary] and a new list of countries,” Brown added.