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President Obama Ends Controversial NSEERS Program

President Obama Ends Controversial NSEERS Program

On Thursday, the White House announced it will dismantle a dormant but controversial program under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The program, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was established following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and targeted non-citizens entering and exiting the country as visitors – often students, workers, and tourists.

Under this program, men from 25 countries (24 that are predominantly Muslim) over the age of 16 were required to register with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) within 30 days of entering the country and submit to questioning. At the interview, individuals would be photographed, fingerprinted and required to provide paperwork proving their reason for being in the United States. Failure to comply could result in fines, arrest, detention, and eventually deportation.

The new DHS rule will remove regulations that established NSEERS, although the program has been defunct since 2011, when the Obama administration removed all the countries from the list. The program was discontinued after it was found to be redundant and costly. Because the program required in-person interviews with an INS officer, it inefficiently gathered information that was already captured through automated means. Nonetheless, campaign rhetoric raised concerns that NSEERS may provide a system and underlying legal basis for “a Muslim registry.” This new rule removes NSEERS as a potential vehicle for such a registry.

Religious freedom is a hallmark of the United States, enshrined in the “First Freedoms” of the First Amendment. All people, of all religious tradition and all those who do not express a religious tradition, must be free to live according to their beliefs. Targeting groups because of their religious beliefs – or for their national origin, or any other aspect of their identity – goes against longstanding American values, and is unjust. The end of NSEERS represents the end of one manner in which the fundamental balance between civil liberties and national security was disrupted. We must continue to work to ensure that all people can live openly according to their religious beliefs and traditions, and that no one faces discrimination because of who they are.

Shelby Friedman is a 2016-2017 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Shelby is from Dallas, TX, where she is a member of Temple Emanu-El. She graduated from Middlebury College. 

Shelby Friedman

Published: 12/22/2016