New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called on President Obama to dismantle the legal framework of a since-shuttered post-9/11 traveler registration system criticized as a redundant and ineffective national security tool that’s discriminatory toward Muslims.
Established by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) captured the names of non-immigrants entering the US who originated from 24 predominantly Muslim nations as well as North Korea.
Enforcement measures included capturing names and fingerprints of males at US points of entry and tracking when they exit the country. The database eventually amassed more than 80,000 names of men and teenagers—none of whom were ever singled out as potential terror suspects.
Instead of weeding out potential troublemakers, the program placed 13,000 men in removal proceedings for such infractions as failing to re-register with immigration authorities, despite federal officials themselves admitting the process was confusing. In separate memos, department heads ordered subordinates to use “prosecutorial discretion” when a legitimate excuse was given.
The Department of Homeland Security de-listed the countries in April 2011 after concluding automated systems it had adopted made the manual process of registering specific individuals unnecessary. The agency also admitted that NSEERS failed in providing additional security measures.
“As you are aware,” Schneiderman told Obama in his letter, dated Dec. 19, “NSEERS sought to track and register non-immigrant males from primarily Arab, Muslim and South Asian countries who were not suspected or accused of any wrongdoing. The program did not achieve its intended purpose of reducing terrorist activity in the United States. Instead, NSEERS undermined the trust and hindered open communications between law enforcement and community members, thus hampering the ability of law enforcement to promote public safety.”
Placing 13,000 men in removal proceedings “devastated” communities, Schneiderman added, echoing decade-long criticisms by immigration advocates.
Rights groups have in the past lambasted the program as discriminatory because of its focus on two-dozen Muslim nations. The program included a domestic agenda, which stipulated that certain men currently in the US check in at immigration offices. Many of those impacted by the program were in the dark about their periodic registration requirements, leaving them in legal limbo, immigration advocates have said.
Schneiderman’s entreaty to Obama, a fellow Democrat, comes after dozens of Muslim and civil rights groups wrote a similar letter to the president on Nov. 21 asking him to rescind NSEERS’ regulatory framework. That letter documented the case of a 19-year-old Algerian athlete who came to the US on a student visa and whose visit to the local immigration office was delayed by one day because of a car accident, yet was still placed in removal proceedings.
Additionally, NSEERS’ critics marched to the White House last week armed with a petition that aired similar grievances.
Pleas to Obama come amid newfound worry among the program’s critics that President-elect Donald Trump could reinstate NSEERS as part of his hard-line approach to immigration.
Margo Schlanger, who once presided over the DHS’ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties under Obama, previously told the Press that there was “no security case to be made for NSEERS.”
“All the people who come in on Visas are interviewed and tracked, and so we don’t have to pick based on generalizations, we can just interview and track everyone,” Schlanger said.
Writing to Obama, Schneiderman said the DHS made the correct decision in 2011 to eliminate the countries from the system and now urges Obama “to fully dismantle what is left of NSEERS so that it can longer be used to instill fear and mistrust within the communities we serve.”