Obama cancels Mus­lim reg­istry to thwart Trump

Fears ob­so­lete post-9/11 sys­tem is re­source for ‘extreme vet­ting’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rushed Thurs­day to can­cel a pro­gram set up in the wake of Sept. 11 to track and de­port il­le­gal im­mi­grant Mus­lim and Arab men, hop­ing to hin­der Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s plans to im­pose “extreme vet­ting” on Mus­lim vis­i­tors.

Civil rights and im­mi­grant groups cheered the move and said they hoped it would force a re­think by Mr. Trump who, while soft­en­ing some of his other po­si­tions post­elec­tion, has not budged on his call for more thor­ough checks on those com­ing into the U.S. from ter­ror­ism con­nected coun­tries.

The Na­tional Se­cu­rity En­tryExit Reg­is­tra­tion Sys­tem had been dor­mant for years, but ac­tivists de­manded that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion take it off the books en­tirely. They feared Mr. Trump could use the pro­gram as a short­cut to start­ing his own vet­ting.

“Keeping NSEERS out of Trump’s hands was the right thing to do,” said David Leopold, a prom­i­nent immigration ad­vo­cate and for­mer head of the Amer­i­can Immigration Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion set up the pro­gram in 2002 as a way to track Mus­lim men in the

U.S. When it was fully op­er­a­tional, the pro­gram re­quired new ar­rivals to turn over ex­tra bio­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and re­quired those plan­ning to stay more than 30 days to pro­vide even more data, in­clud­ing where they planned to stay in the U.S. Those al­ready in the coun­try were also asked to reg­is­ter.

The goal was to give au­thor­i­ties a way to keep tabs on po­ten­tial bad ac­tors such as the 19 Sept. 11 hi­jack­ers who came into the U.S. legally but stayed af­ter their visas ex­pired, which made them il­le­gal im­mi­grants at the time of the attacks.

The sys­tem ini­tially tar­geted vis­i­tors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Su­dan, but the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was also con­cerned about male vis­i­tors ages 16 to 45 from Pakistan, Saudi Ara­bia and Ye­men.

The sys­tem was con­tro­ver­sial from the start, and the 30-day and rereg­is­tra­tion re­quire­ments were quickly dropped. Much of the rest of the pro­gram was made ob­so­lete as bor­der checks were brought into the dig­i­tal age.

When the pro­gram was op­er­a­tional, it re­quired bor­der of­fi­cers to man­u­ally col­lect in­for­ma­tion from vis­i­tors. The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment says it now has au­to­mated sys­tems that col­lect bet­ter in­for­ma­tion, mak­ing the pro­gram out­dated as well as in­ef­fi­cient.

“DHS has de­ter­mined that the NSEERS model for bor­der vet­ting and se­cu­rity, which fo­cused on des­ig­nated na­tion­al­i­ties for spe­cial pro­cess­ing, is out­moded,” Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son said Thurs­day in his of­fi­cial sub­mis­sion to can­cel the pro­gram.

He said the pro­gram, which was fully sus­pended in 2011, would be taken off the books im­me­di­ately.

Jessica Vaughan, an en­force­ment ad­vo­cate and pol­icy stud­ies di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter for Immigration Stud­ies, said she wasn’t sure why the ad­min­is­tra­tion was push­ing to re­move the reg­u­la­tions if the pro­gram al­ready had been frozen.

She said the pro­gram was ef­fec­tive in lo­cat­ing for­eign­ers who had over­stayed their visas, help­ing immigration agents track down and de­port some and spurring oth­ers in the U.S. il­le­gally to go back to their home coun­tries.

“Back then, we had no en­try-exit track­ing and no way of know­ing which of the peo­ple ad­mit­ted from risky ar­eas had de­parted. Now we have a bi­o­graphic match­ing sys­tem, so it’s prob­a­bly not nec­es­sary to re-cre­ate NSEERS in the same form,” she said.

In­stead, she said, the ad­min­is­tra­tion can use the in­for­ma­tion be­ing col­lected elec­tron­i­cally to de­ter­mine whom immigration agents should pur­sue.

Civil rights groups said NSEERS, dur­ing its decade in op­er­a­tion, didn’t lead to a sin­gle ter­ror­ism con­vic­tion and that re­vok­ing the frame­work of the sys­tem would help pro­tect Mus­lim and Arab im­mi­grants.

Re­scind­ing the NSEERS doesn’t stop Mr. Trump, but it does mean he would have to set up a new pro­gram rather than re­new an ex­ist­ing one — a higher hur­dle and a longer process.

The pres­i­dent-elect said Wed­nes­day, in the wake of a ter­ror­ist at­tack in Ger­many, that he is still de­ter­mined to pur­sue his extreme vet­ting. “You know my plans. All along, I’ve been proven to be right,” he said.

Im­mi­grant rights groups have been fear­ful of what Mr. Trump will do once in of­fice.

“Paint­ing en­tire com­mu­ni­ties with a broad brush of sus­pi­cion is wholly in­con­sis­tent with our nation’s val­ues,” said Royce Mur­ray, pol­icy di­rec­tor at the Amer­i­can Immigration Coun­cil. “The next ad­min­is­tra­tion should not re­peat the mis­takes of the past and in­sti­tute any dis­crim­i­na­tory reg­istry.”

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