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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/22/16

American Muslim groups welcome decision to end program once used to track Muslims

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Islamophobia is Un-American
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American Muslim civil advocacy groups Thursday (Dec. 22, 2016) welcomed President Barrack Obama's decision to permanently dismantle the regulatory framework behind the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS) also called "Special Registration."

CNN quoted Neema Hakim, a DHS spokesman, as saying: "The Department of Homeland Security is removing outdated regulations pertaining to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS) program, with an immediate effective date." By 2011, nearly a decade after the program was enacted, NSEERS had not resulted in a single terrorism conviction. The Department of Homeland Security determined in 2011 that the program was "redundant and did not provide any increase in security," said Hakim.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Legal & Policy Director Abed Ayoub states, "This is the right decision by Secretary Johnson. We commend him, and the White House, for letting it be known that such registry programs are futile and have no place in our country. However the community cannot be at ease; the next administration has indicated that they will consider implementing similar programs. We will work twice as hard to protect our community and ensure such programs do not come to fruition."

The ADC led an effort on behalf of over 200 organizations, calling on the Obama administration to end the program. The letter, which was delivered in late November, was followed by vigorous advocacy efforts by a large coalition of community organizations, including allies from the Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities. Resources were leveraged to build a strong diverse coalition to exert pressure that ultimately led to the dismantling of the NSEERS framework.

"Registering and tracking Muslim visitors to the United States is not only discriminatory but a tremendous waste of our nation's national security resources," said the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw. "We thank President Obama and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for finally putting an end to what was widely perceived to be a massive profiling campaign targeting individuals based on their religion and ethnicity."

"Many activists and advocacy organizations came together over the years and again recently to challenge NSEERs and encourage an end to the program. We are especially grateful for the leadership of the ADC and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) who even as recently as last week organized a march and rally in Washington, D.C. on this issue," said CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director Zahra Billoo.

The American Muslim Voice (AMV) also welcomed Obama administration's decision to permanently end the controversial NSEERs program. The national President of the AMV, Khalid Saeed, in a statement said that "we thank Obama administration for formally rescinding the program which was dormant since 2011 as it was considered redundant and ineffective." He said that the AMV also thanks to all civil advocacy groups and individuals who came together to end this program and support the seven-million strong American Muslim community in the face of anti-Muslim bigotry. Khalid Saeed said that the best example of this support was a vigil on Wednesday night at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. This pro-Muslim vigil was organized by the Jewish Voices for Peace and held simultaneously in more than 20 cities across the nation.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Thursday hailed the Obama administration's decision to rescind the NSEERs program. However, the MPAC warned that although the framework of the program will be removed, the next administration has the authority to rebuild a dangerous NSEERS-type program from scratch. The MPAC said: "Americans of all backgrounds must join together and prevent discriminatory policies that target any community and violate rights and liberties enshrined in the US Constitution. Today is a victory for civil liberties, but we must continue to preserve our rights by redoubling our efforts to building coalitions and engaging our elected officials."

After 9/11, the Bush Administration instituted the NSEERS registry system that targeted individuals on national origin. Of the 25 designated countries, 24 were majority Arab or Muslim. The discriminatory NSEERS program disparately profiled Arabs and Muslims by questioning and fingerprinting individuals and registering this identifying information in a database.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Wednesday (12/21) called on Obama to dismantle the NSEERS program. In a letter addressed to the President, Schneiderman wrote that NSEERS did not reduce terrorist activity and instead "undermined trust" in law enforcement and instilled fear in some communities.

President-elect Donald Trump and advisors close to him have publicly said that the Trump administration would revive and expand the federal registry that once targeted visitors mostly from Muslim-majority countries. Alarmingly, in the wake of the Berlin attack, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to a Muslim registry.

According to the Atlantic, DHS suspended the domestic registration program in December 2003, more than a year after it had begun. By that point, according to a fact sheet released by the agency, NSEERS had garnered more than 83,500 domestic registrations, and 93,741 people had registered at ports of entry.

By December 2003, nearly 13,800 people had been placed in deportation proceedings because of the program--but, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the program did not help the government open a single terrorist-related criminal case. The deportations broke apart families, representatives for the advocacy organizations said, and their effects reverberated far beyond the end of the domestic registration program.

When DHS phased out the domestic registration program, the agency said it was outdated compared to newer systems like US-VISIT, a comprehensive program for tracking visitors to the U.S. from nearly every country, which is still in use today.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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