Trump policy adviser recommends national registry targeting Muslim immigrants

Allegations of racial and ethnic profiling helped to end the program in 2011.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is seen at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Jan . 15, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Hanna
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is seen at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Jan . 15, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Hanna

Muslim immigrants coming into the United States from “terror-prone” countries may soon have to register and check in regularly with the government, said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an adviser to President-elect Donald Trump.

Kobach — architect of anti-immigration legislation in Arizona and Alabama, as well as cities in Pennsylvania and Texas — recommended that the incoming administration could enact Trump’s call for “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants by reinstating a national registry that targets people from largely Arab- and Muslim- majority countries, Reuters reported.

Known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), that program allowed the U.S. government to record the arrival, length of stay, and departure of certain individuals from 25 countries believed to possess “possible national security threats.” Those countries included Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Libya, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. Only one country on the NSEERS list, North Korea, is not majority-Muslim.

Implemented in 2002 after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the NSEERS program required people to undergo a half hour in secondary inspection and register after they leave the country through a port of departure, limiting travel flexibility. Under the program, immigrant men and boys were particularly singled out for “special registration” which required them to annually report and register with the government for interrogations and fingerprinting.

Human rights groups criticized NSEERS and called out the government for being able to track the whereabouts of these immigrants within the country, which sometimes resulted in racial profiling. Under the guise of immigration enforcement of visa violations, the program was “a proxy to target Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities,” Margaret Huang, the then-executive director of the Rights Working Group said in 2009.

Before it disbanded in 2011, the NSEERS program registered 93,000 people, of whom 13,740 immigrants were placed in deportation proceedings. The number of people prosecuted on terrorism charges under the program amounted to zero.

Prior to the NSEERS program, the U.S. government quietly implemented a directive from Chief Immigration Judge Michael J. Creppy, who ordered immigration cases to be conducted in secret in the immediate days following the September 2001 attacks. As many as 1,200 Muslim and Arab men were arrested and incarcerated in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. The USA PATRIOT Act was later enacted in October 26, 2001. As of May 2002, 611 people were subject to one or more secret hearings, a 2003 joint report from the Center for American Progress reported.

In addition to Muslim immigrant registration, Kobach told Reuters that the new administration could begin construction of a border wall on the U.S. -Mexico border without congressional approval. Congressional Republicans have suggested double layers of fencing along some parts of the wall, a plan that Trump supports.

Trump is reportedly considering Kobach for attorney general, the top position within the U.S. Department of Justice, and one with considerable influence over immigration decisions.

Kobach previously helped to draft punitive legislation intended to make life so difficult for immigrants that they would leave. His efforts had mixed results. Undocumented immigrants did leave Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia in droves, but it came at a big economic cost. Thanks to Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which allowed law enforcement officials to ask for proof of residency, the state lost an estimated $141 million in the space of a few months. And Alabama, which lost 2.5 percent of the state’s population after it passed a harsh anti-immigrant law, lost an estimated $10.8 billion.

UPDATE: The piece has been changed to reflect that secret arrests began before the USA PATRIOT Act was enacted into law.