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Obama urged to scrap de facto ‘Muslim registry’ before Trump takes office

30th Dec 2016
Obama urged to scrap de facto ‘Muslim registry’ before Trump takes office

The architect of NSEERS, Kris Kobach, who served in the Justice Department during President Bush’s administration and is now advising Trump, said that transition policy advisers were debating the merits of rebooting NSEERS.

Nadine Osman

Nearly 200 civil right organisations concerned by suggestions President-elect Donald Trump may reboot the defunct NSEERS program, used to register male Muslim immigrants, are asking President Barack Obama to completely abolish the tracking program.

In a letter submitted to the White House on November 23, 198 organisations including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the National Council of La Raza, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, blasted the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS) for being “ineffective as a counterterrorism tool” and causing “tremendous harm” to immigrant communities.

NSEERS called ‘Special Registration’, was a program for registering and monitoring noncitizen visa holders (students, workers, and tourists) that President George Bush’s administration enacted a year after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The program requires males 16 years of age or older from 25 countries to be registered and fingerprinted. With the exception of North Korea, all the countries on the list were Arab or had majority Muslim populations. The program was widely referred to at the time as “Muslim registry.”

In April 2011, the Obama Administration “de-listed” the 25 countries and announced that males from those countries would no longer have to comply with the program. In April 2012, Department of Homeland Security released a memo on individuals impacted by NSEERS, granting limited relief to those who failed to comply if they can prove the noncompliance was not willful.

NSEERS flaws

NSEERS drew criticism from various civil and human-rights groups, members of Congress, and at least one committee of the UN. Specifically, NSEERS was censured for its focus primarily on nationals of Muslim-majority countries; its alleged inability to identify terrorist threats (it failed to achieve a single terrorism conviction from the 93,000 boys and men forced to register), and the strict legal and immigration consequences put in place for participant noncompliance.

The registration program also violated civil liberties through profiling, unlawful arrests, and detentions of individuals who were not even required to register.

ADC Legal & Policy Director, Abed Ayoub, said, “NSEERS has proven to be a failure and it is time to bring it to an end. Since its inception, numerous former Government officials, both Republicans and Democrats, have expressed concern and frustration with the program. Many of these same officials agree that the US Government should not engage in any program which is predicated on racial, ethnic and religious profiling. It’s time to close the book on NSEERS and end the program.”

Revival of NSEERS

Kansas Secretary of State and architect of NSEERS, Kris Kobach, who served in the Justice Department during President Bush’s administration and is now advising Trump, said that transition policy advisers were debating the merits of rebooting NSEERS.

Media outlets zoomed in on the papers the immigration hard-liner carried into his meeting with Trump, which was his “strategic plan” for the department in the first year of a Trump administration.

The paper read: ‘1 update and reintroduce the NSEERS screening and tracking system (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) that was in place from 2002-2005. All aliens from high-risk areas are tracked.’

Trump supporters have floated a registry of Muslim immigrants as part of efforts to combat terrorism, but officials with his transition team have denied any such plans.

The heads of an anti-Semitism American NGO and America’s most prominent African-American civil rights group have vowed to register as a Muslim should Trump create a national database for the religion’s followers.

Trump’s Communications Director denied that Trump supports monitoring individuals based on their faith. Jason Miller told CNN Trump “has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion, and to imply otherwise is completely false.”

However, during his presidential campaign Trump effectively told NBC’s Meet the Press his Muslim ban will be replaced with the word territory ban, “I’m looking now at territory. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim . . . . And I’m OK with that because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL said: “The new administration plans to force Muslims to register on some master list.”

Speaking at ADL’s Never is Now Conference in New York on November 17 Greenblatt, said, “As Jews, we know what it means to be forced to register. I pledge to you that because I am committed to the fight against anti-Semitism that if one-day Muslim-Americans are forced to register their identities, that is the day this proud Jew will register as Muslim. Making powerful enemies is the price one must pay, at times, for speaking truth to power.”

President of African-American civil rights group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Cornell Brooks, was among those to second the pledge.

“As a proud Christian & a card-carrying member of the @NAACP, I’ll also register as a Muslim right behind @JGreenblattADL,” he wrote.

Greenblatt added Americans must reject all forms of discrimination regardless of which minority group it targets.

“No one has an excuse for excusing intolerance. We must stand with our fellow Americans who may be singled out for how they look, where they’re from, who they love or how they pray,” he said.

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