The Obama administration is dismantling the so-called Muslim registry that logged visitors from countries with active terrorist groups. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to create a similar list.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) submitted a rule change on Thursday to dismantle the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program.
At its height, the registry listed arrivals from at least 25 countries and amassed a roster of 80,000 names of teenage boys and men.
“DHS ceased use of NSEERS more than five years ago, after it was determined the program was redundant, inefficient and provided no increase in security,” Neema Hakim, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement, according to the New York Times.
Hakim said the program was “not only obsolete” and “outdated” but diverted personnel and resources from other areas that were seen as more effective.
The decision comes as the Obama administration is taking several actions to distance itself from Trump’s proposed policies. The president-elect suggested during his campaign that he would resurrect the program.
Civil rights attorney Stanley Cohen told RT that the program didn’t operate in a uniform fashion because there were task forces all over the United States.
“In some cases people came in and voluntarily signed up. In other places agents raided mosques, they raided schools, they raided communities. They picked people up at airports. They systematically singled out folks that they assumed were Muslim, that they assumed were Arab,” said Cohen.
“They embraced this huge harassment and surveillance technique program which ended up with a huge net, that drew several thousand people in who may have been out of status, and ended up spending years in detention, destroying families, destroying communities, destroying schools and producing nothing. Nothing but setting this tone of terror.”
Pressure on the Obama administration also came from civil rights groups and a joint letter from 50 Democratic members of the House of Representatives on December 1, which called for the registry to be rescinded, arguing that “no known terrorism convictions have resulted from the program,” and that it was “an affront to our core American values of pluralism and equal justice under law.”
Cohen told RT the registry was a “feel-good” program designed to tell the American public that the government was doing things to keep them safe after 9-11.
“It was not designed to produce results. All it did was to harass and destroy communities and to anger tens of thousands of lawful American citizens and people who were here lawfully, paying taxes, working, going to school and raising their families in a very conservative community,” said Cohen. “It was designed to send a false message but what it did was destroy families, destroy communities and destroy the United States Constitution.”
Silicon Valley has also pushed back against Trump’s threat to revamp the program, the New York Times reported. Leaders at tech companies such as Google and Facebook were forced to state publicly that they would not assist the new administration in developing programs after thousands of engineers said they stood in solidarity with Muslim Americans and would not use their skills for the “new administration’s proposed data-collection policies.”
“We refuse to build a database of people based on their constitutionally protected beliefs,” the engineers said in a statement that ran to 50 pages of signatures.
The federal government began the NSEERS program in 1991 during the first Gulf War, when immigration authorities began requiring the registration and fingerprinting of certain non-immigrant travelers entering the United States from Iraq and Kuwait. Those requirements were removed for those countries two years later but the regulatory structure was left in place.
Under President George W. Bush, the registry was reintroduced after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and expanded to include those arriving from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria. By 2003, the list had broadened to 25 countries ‒ mostly with majority Muslim populations, and mainly in Africa and the Middle East.
The registry has not been in use since 2011, however, having been replaced by automated systems that collect and store biometric data such as fingerprints from nearly all people entering the country.