In 2001, Roskana Mun was a 16-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant living in one of New York City’s most diverse neighborhoods. After 9/11, the U.S. government started tracking foreign Muslim men and boys, and Mun’s neighborhood changed as men were detained and in some cases deported.
“Women had to juggle raising a whole family and face the threat of detention,” Mun said. “Girls had to step up, and young people who were 13 or 14 years old had to quit school to work.”
Mun now works for DRUM, a New York-based advocacy group for South Asian immigrants. She said the U.S. government’s tracking of men from Muslim-majority countries for a decade had disrupted daily life, causing shops to close in neighborhoods like Midwood, Brooklyn, after hundreds of men were deported.
The tracking program administered by the Department of Homeland Security, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, required males 16 and older from 25 countries to undergo additional vetting in the interest of national security.
After 10 years and 13,000 deportations, President Barack Obama stopped enforcing the program in 2011. It hadn’t caught a single terrorist.
On Thursday, the DHS announced that the regulatory framework for the system has been dismantled, effectively gutting a quasi-Muslim registry just weeks before President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House. The move prevents the dormant program from being quickly restarted to track the movements of certain Muslim men living in the United States.
“The Department of Homeland Security is removing outdated regulations pertaining to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System program, with an immediate effective date,” DHS spokesman Neema Hakim said in a statement. “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. The intervening years have shown that NSEERS is not only obsolete, but that its use would divert limited personnel and resources from more effective measures.”
The dissolution of the system comes just days after an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin rekindled Trump’s interest in barring Muslim immigrants from entering the United States.
“You know my plans. All along, I’ve been proven to be right,” Trump said to reporters when asked about the market attack and the Muslim registry. “What’s happening is disgraceful.”
If Trump wants to create a Muslim registry within the DHS, he’ll have to start from scratch and present the proposal for public comment, a process that takes time and opens the agency to additional scrutiny.
“When NSEERS was suspended it wasn’t removed from the books,” said Arab American Institute executive director Maya Berry, head of an advocacy group that has opposed the registry. Before Thursday’s move, she said, Trump would only have had to name the countries affected to put the registry back to work.
Berry said the program was effectively a Muslim registry because 24 of the 25 countries involved were majority Muslim. The lone exception was North Korea.
Despite Thursday’s news, Berry said Trump probably would try to implement a Muslim registry of some sort by requiring immigrants from Muslim-majority countries to undergo additional vetting.
“Regrettably, I’m not hopeful about programs like this not coming back,” Berry said.
Trump met with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in recent weeks, an immigration hard-liner who presented documents to the president-elect that included plans to ensure “all aliens from high-risk areas are tracked” and to use “extreme vetting” for immigrants from countries considered high risk.
That proposal has been echoed by House Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who’s called for “immediate suspension of all immigration from high-risk areas” such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen. McCaul was not available for comment Thursday, but earlier this month he told the conservative Heritage Foundataion in a speech that “We should immediately suspend immigration from high-risk countries where we cannot confidently weed out terror suspects.”
Trump recently nominated retired Gen. John Kelly as DHS secretary. Kelly was once in charge of the U.S. Southern Command and oversaw the detention center for terrorism suspects at the Guantánamo Bay naval base.