By Times Headline Writer
The US President Barack Obama disbanded the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Desis Rising Up & Moving, along with several Indian American and South Asian American groups, organized a petition drive to disband the program, and delivered over 350,000 signatures to the White House Dec. 12.
In a press release issued shortly after the president made the announcement, the Department of Homeland Security noted that it had ceased use of the program – which collected data on immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh along with other countries – in 2011. Males over the age of 16 from those countries were fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed at the point of registry, and required to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a periodic basis.
Indian American attorney Tejas Shah, who leads Franczek Radelet’s immigration practice and co-chairs the South Asian Bar Association’s immigration panel, hailed Obama’s move. “There is no regulatory framework anymore for the new administration to target specific communities. The new president will have to start from scratch,” he told India-West.
President-elect Donald Trump espoused the idea of a Muslim registry throughout his campaign, and has continued to advocate for a ban on immigration from countries which have been “compromised by terrorism.” He brought up the proposal afresh Dec. 21, after a Tunisian migrant with ties to the Islamic State attacked an open-air market in Berlin, and killed 12 people.
“You’ve known my plans all along,” Trump responded, when a reporter at a press conference asked whether the attack had changed his mind about a Muslim registry or a temporary ban on Muslims.
Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway clarified the president-elect’s remarks in an interview with CNN, saying Trump does not support an out-and-out ban on Muslims, but wants to add greater scrutiny to immigration from “countries where we know they have a higher propensity of training and exporting and in some cases harboring terrorists.”
Shah told India-West the president-elect’s position is unclear as to whether religion will be a significant factor in determining who will be barred from entering the U.S., and clarified that the NSEERS program looked at countries with a high risk of terrorism.
He predicted that the president-elect would not target Muslims from India, as the country is not viewed as supporting terrorism. But he cautioned that Trump has surrounded himself with “people with unusual ideas” who may support a ban on Muslims from any country.
South Asian Americans Leading Together issued a press statement after Obama’s announcement thanking DHS and the White House for disbanding the NSEERS program. The organization noted that over 80,000 men were forced to register and over 13,000 individuals were placed into deportation proceedings, but there were no terrorism-related convictions as a result of the program.
“SAALT and South Asian Americans nationwide have experienced firsthand the ways programs such as NSEERS have decimated our trust in law enforcement. Today’s announcement begins us on the path to restore some of that trust,” stated the organization.
DRUM member Mohammad Jafar Alam, a survivor of the original NSEERS program in 2003, said in a statement: “I know exactly what a program like NSEERS does to a person and their family. The extreme mental, emotional distress, the financial problems, the pressures on a family and the isolation that happens is a punishment not just for one person, but everyone involved.”
“NSEERS had millions of dollars spent and was useless in the role it was supposed to have on safety. Instead, money was wasted and our communities and all the families involved with Special Registration, were altogether punished. We commend the Obama Administration for responding to our call and ending this program,” said Alam.