One of Donald Trump’s most extreme proposals to day has been to register Muslims with the government, based on nothing other than their religion.
No other religion has yet been singled out in this way by the incoming Trump administration, in spite of the fact that there are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu terrorists and many others carrying out atrocities throughout the world.
There was a precursor to this proposal that ran from 2002, but President Barack Obama suspended the program in 2011.
The program skirted around the issue of targeting Muslims, whereas Trump openly calls for it. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because the program proved utterly ineffective in preventing terrorism.
Trump was basing his ability to create this registry off of the skeletal remains of this defunct program that had never been fully dismantled.
It was still sitting around for the Trump administration to dust off and breath new life into it.
But on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security published a regulation from the Obama administration that would totally destroy the National Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) and all remnants of it.
This would force the Trump administration to create something brand new that he could not dubiously claim had been enacted already (dubious because he planned on expanding it beyond what it was).
Any new creation by the Trump administration now would also give civil rights groups an opportunity to stop them, which would not have existed if the defunct program had remnants remaining on the books.
The regulation officially goes into effect Friday, December 23 – well before the Trump administration steps up to bat.
Dara Lind, writing for Vox, notes that “at least one contender to lead the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is recommending the Trump administration “update and reintroduce the NSEERS screening and tracking system” for men in the US on “nonimmigrant” visas (such as work or student visas) from particular countries.”
As well, “the NSEERS program forced people from 25 countries to register with the federal government and check in for follow-ups. It resulted in the deportation of about 13,000 people. It did not result in any convictions for terrorism or related crimes.”
And Trump wanted to not only revive that but expand it?
“Twenty-four of the 25 countries included were Muslim-majority countries — and the 25th was North Korea,” Lind adds. “The NSEERS program registered visa-holders of all faiths from affected countries. But most of those affected were Muslim — and in context (it was passed after 9/11), that certainly didn’t seem like a coincidence.”
“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.”
Obama’s White House has decried all discrimination against Muslim immigrants and rebuked the proposals by Trump.
But while the Obama administration’s rhetoric made it clear they thought NSEERS was a bad idea, they didn’t fully get rid of it. What they did, instead, was just clear out the list of countries from which people would be registered.
The regulatory framework to screen and track visa-holders still existed, it was just screening and tracking immigrants from zero countries. It was dormant, but not defunct.
So when Kobach’s proposal leaked, all it would have taken to start NSEERS back up again would be for DHS to announce that they were re-adding countries to the list — something they could do with a simple notice in the Federal Register, without requiring any time for public comment or other regulatory delays. From there, it would just have been a matter of logistics to get the registry up and running again.
So how did that program start and could it happen again?
When the Bush administration created the NSEERS program in 2002, though, they did have to go through the traditional regulatory process — including allowing the public to submit comments and concerns, and responding to them.
The Bush administration responded by defending its record on civil rights protection. In the wake of 9/11, it acknowledged, “some American Muslims have been targets of discrimination.[…] These attacks against Muslim Americans and the Muslim communities are not only reprehensible; like terrorism, they are also attacks against the United States and humanity.”
The government pointed out that the FBI had investigated civil rights violations against Muslim, Arab, and Sikh Americans, and would continue to do so. And it “unequivocally rejects the notion that the requirements of (NSEERS) or the criteria for application […] are, or are intended to be, invidiously discriminatory.”
It was relatively easy for the Bush administration to make that case — consistently throughout his presidency, President Bush made it clear that he did not see Muslims or Islam as a threat, and urged Americans not to succumb to Islamophobia.
Trump is a very different animal. He originally called for an outright ban on Muslims from entering the US. His national security adviser, Mike Flynn, has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
(Article by M. David)