The Obama administration is dismantling a discriminatory surveillance system that was used after 9/11 to keep tabs on Arabs and Muslims across the US, in a move that will make it more difficult for president-elect Donald Trump to achieve his goal of introducing a Muslim registry.
On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security published a regulation that would totally get rid of the National Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) — forcing the Trump administration to take the time to create something new, and giving civil rights groups an opportunity to stop them..”
Obama has come under intense lobbying in recent days from human rights and Muslim American groups to do something about the Nseers system. Though the current president has generally acted cautiously in avoiding any impression that he wants to foil Trump’s policies, his move to unpick the surveillance scheme is a sign of how opposed he is to his successor’s threats to put Muslims under the governmental spotlight.
The move, which goes into effect on Friday, does not change anything from an immediate practical standpoint. The registry, implemented shortly after the 9/11 attacks, was suspended in 2011 when 25 countries—which included 24 countries that were Arab nations or had majority Muslim populations, along with North Korea—were taken off the registration list. The program, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or NSEERS, initially required that men aged 16 and over from countries on the list register and be fingerprinted upon arrival in the United States, then regularly check in with immigration officers. The check-in portion of the program was narrowed to apply to targeted check-ins rather than a broad one after 2003, and the program was suspended entirely eight years later.
Trump, however, renewed concerns on Wednesday that he might use NSEERS as the basis for some form of registry of people from nations with large Muslim populations. When asked whether or not this week’s terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin would cause him to consider a new previously stated and sometimes modified plans to ban Muslims from entering the country or create some kind of registry of Muslims, he said: “you know my plans.” The transition’s communications director Jason Miller later clarified that Trump was reasserting his position that he would suspend immigration from countries deemed to have “high terrorism rates” and that his administration would “apply a strict vetting procedure for those seeking entry.”
One year ago on the campaign trail, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He was heavily criticized at the time, even by some Republicans, and has appeared to modify that position to the now vaguer ban.
With Obama’s move, it would still be possible for Trump to try to revive the program, but it at least makes the logistics for doing so more complicated.
NSEERS did not result in a single prosecution, as Hayes noted, a fact that Kobach himself acknowledged back in 2004 when the 9/11 Commission criticized the effectiveness of the program.