Previous Program Could Serve as Model for Trump,
January 3, 2017, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and DRUM – South Asian Organizing Center sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to multiple federal agencies seeking documents related to the federal National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). NSEERS required nonimmigrants who were citizens of designated countries – 24 out of 25 of which were majority Arab or Muslim – to submit to special registration and monitoring requirements while in the U.S. Critics say the program was discriminatory and abusive, and warned that its regulatory framework could easily facilitate president-elect Trump’s proposed Muslim registry.
In response to a strong push by the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian community and its allies, the Obama administration dismantled the NSEERS framework in December. DRUM and CCR say that a full accounting of the program is crucial to challenging similar abuses by the incoming administration. The FOIA requests seek information about the criteria used to select individuals for NSEERS registration; the process whereby countries were added to the special registration list; and data showing the race, religion, and national origin of those targeted. All such information is necessary to understand the assertedly discriminatory nature of the program.
“Now that NSEERS has been dismantled, any attempt to implement a similar program will require the Trump administration to issue new regulations subject to notice and comment,” Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of DRUM. “The information we are seeking under the Freedom of Information Act will be vital to challenging that effort to revive the racial and religious profiling of NSEERS.”
Created in 2002 by the Department of Justice, NSEERS required certain nonimmigrants visiting the U.S. on business or student visas to submit to fingerprinting, photographing, and interrogation upon arrival, check in with the government periodically during their stay, and exit the country through designated ports. Muslim males over 16 from the designated countries were selected for special registration and had to regularly provide proof of residence and employment or matriculation. More than 90,000 Muslims were registered under NSEERS, and thousands were detained, interrogated, and deported for failure to comply with special registration requirements. As a result, families were torn apart and a deep fear settled in the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian community. NSEERS did not produce a single terrorism prosecution.
DHS suspended NSEERS in 2011, citing efficiency issues, but its regulatory framework remained in place. Following a broad effort by a coalition of grassroots social justice advocates, who argued that NSEERS could easily be revived by the Trump administration to target the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian community, DHS announced on December 22, 2016 that it would dismantle the NSEERS framework.
“While we are grateful to the Obama administration for heeding the call to dismantle NSEERS, a full understanding of the program and the discriminatory features of its design and implementation have not been made fully public,” said Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “As with all historical reckonings, such as the Red Scare and Japanese internment, we can only fully and finally put to rest the folly of programs that target vulnerable communities in the name of national security if we have a full understanding of how they arose and operated.”
The FDOIA requests were sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, and U.S. Customs & Border Protection.
To read the FOIA request filed today, visit CCR’s case page.
DRUM – South Asian Organizing Center (formerly Desis Rising Up and Moving) is a multigenerational, membership led organization of low-wage South Asian immigrant workers and youth in New York City. Founded in 2000, DRUM has mobilized and built the leadership of thousands of low-income, South Asian immigrants to lead social and policy change that impacts their own lives- from immigrant rights to education reform, civil rights, and worker’s justice. Its membership of over 2,400 adults, youth, and families is multigenerational and represents the diaspora of the South Asian community – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Guyana, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad. In over a decade, DRUM has built a unique model of South Asian undocumented workers, women, and youth led organizing for rights and justice from the local to the global.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.