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Obama Did Right by Repealing Registration Regulations

Trump Should Not Reinstate Them

President Barack Obama did the right thing today by repealing federal counterterrorism regulations that required tens of thousands of non-citizen Muslims to register with the government. The action may slow down President-elect Donald Trump if he moves to make good on his misguided campaign promise to create a Muslim registry. If so, let’s hope Trump can be slowed to a stop. The US has had what was for all practical purposes a limited kind of Muslim registry: it failed as a counterterrorism strategy and it contributed to discrimination.

Protesters march past the White House during a protest to shut down the existing Muslim registry program NSEERS in Washington U.S., December 12, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

The registry, known as National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), required nationals of 25 countries, all but one of them majority Muslim, to register with the government. The program was so useless that the Department of Homeland Security suspended it in 2011, but it was never actually dismantled.

From September 2002 to September 2003, under NSEERS more than 83,000 people registered at immigration offices nationwide. In addition to special registration requirements, NSEERS came with its own bureaucracy. It required registrants to adhere to a complex set of reporting requirements, mandatory filings of address or employment changes, and to leave the United States through specific ports of departure. Failure to follow these requirements rendered a person deportable. About 14,000 were ordered deported and 3,000 were detained, according to DHS.

All of this was for nothing; the program was totally ineffective. No terrorism convictions came from the tens of thousands of individuals registered through the NSEERS program. A former immigration official told the New York Times the agency “got nothing” out of the program. And a DHS Inspector General report found “no discernible public benefit” from leaving the regulatory structure of NSEERS in place.

While NSEERS was still in force in 2008, the International Committee for the Elimination Racial Discrimination called on the US to “put an end” to the program in order to ensure that US counterterrorism policies do “not discriminate, in purpose or effect, on the grounds of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.”

Obama’s repeal of the regulations is long overdue. Trump should focus on real threats to the United States with effective counterterrorism policies, not a bureaucratic Muslim registry. 

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