To Prevent a “Muslim Registry,” We Must Start By Dismantling the Last One
A “special registration” program created after 9/11 could easily be employed to target individuals based on ethnicity, religion, and national origin
Of all the frightening rhetoric and ideas that have come out of this past year’s presidential campaign, one that has felt particularly threatening to our communities is the idea of a “Muslim registry.” Seemingly lost in many of the discussions about this idea is the fact that such a registry was essentially created after 9/11.
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), also known as “Special Registration,” was created in the aftermath of September 11. The most controversial part of the program required certain men from 25 primarily Muslim, Arab, and South Asian countries (with the addition of North Korea) to appear at immigration offices for fingerprinting and interrogations. More than 13,000 men who complied found themselves facing deportation. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security de-listed the countries from the program, but its structure remains intact and could be quickly and easily restarted in the future if it is not dismantled now.
The abandonment of the program in 2011 came after heavy criticism from civil rights groups and organizations representing affected communities. Five years later, we continue to believe this program to be discriminatory and un-American, and joined nearly 200 civil and human rights, civil liberties, education, social justice, and inter-faith organizations in a letter urging the current administration to rescind the Special Registration framework.
Government officials in 2011 were also vocal in their critiques of the effectiveness of Special Registration in combating terrorism, and we are seeing similar arguments resurface now. Just today, former Department of Homeland Security officials Margo Schlanger and John Sandweg published a piece in the Hill echoing calls to dismantle the regulatory apparatus, describing why Special Registration is unnecessary for national security and harmful from a governmental affairs perspective.
We are also heartened to see our elected leaders taking a stand on the issue. We applaud last week’s letter sent by 51 members of Congress to President Obama urging him to rescind the regulatory framework behind the National Security Entry-Exit Registry System program.
We thank all the members of Congress who signed on to this letter and particularly appreciate the leadership of House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) for leading this letter. We echo the request in the letter that the President dismantle the Special Registration framework before the end of his term.
Dear President Obama:
We urge you to rescind the regulatory framework behind the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) located at 8 CFR 264.1(f). While we commend your Administration for effectively ending the program in 2011, we believe that eliminating the apparatus of NSEERS is consistent with our country’s fundamental values of fairness and equality.
The NSEERS program was announced in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The most controversial portion of the NSEERS program involved a “domestic” registration system that targeted certain males who entered the United States on nonimmigrant visas from primarily Arab, Muslim-majority, African, and South Asian countries. The program was fundamentally flawed in its false assumption that people of a particular religion or nationality pose a greater national security risk and should be subject to racial profiling. The program is reminiscent of — and indeed has been compared to — the dark time in our history when innocent people were interned based on their Japanese ancestry.
When instituted in 2002, the program caused widespread and palpable fear in affected communities, separated families and caused much harm to people affected by it. Boys and men were required to register with local immigration offices, were interrogated, and subjected to serious due process violation. Communities saw family members and neighbors disappear in the middle of the night, held in overcrowded jails and deported without due process. More than 13,000 people were placed in removal proceedings, businesses closed down, and students were forced to leave school with degrees uncompleted.
In addition to the harm that NSEERS caused to communities, the program was ineffective as a counter-terrorism tool. A 2012 Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General report found the program to be inefficient and a waste of resources, costing American taxpayers more than $10 million annually. The report characterized the data collected through the program as unreliable. No known terrorism convictions have resulted from the program.
We stand together in opposition to policies that would target people based on their religion, race, ethnicity or national origin. We urge the Administration to immediately rescind the NSEERS regulation as a re-affirmation of its commitment to equal protection under the law.
The letter was signed by Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), Judy Chu (D-CA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Grace Meng (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Scott Peters (D-CA), Allen Lowenthal (D-CA), James A Himes (D-CT), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), José E. Serrano (D-NY), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Michael E. Capuano (D-MA), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), David E. Price (D-NC), Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-VA), James McGovern (D-MA), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Michael M. Honda (D-CA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Mark Takano (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), André Carson (D-IN), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), and Michael F. Doyle (D-PA).