President-elect Donald Trump says he still intends to carefully vet immigrants from Muslim countries -- and put a hold on immigration from countries with a history of Islamic extremism -- but he won't be doing it with the help of a national terror registry.
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) has been obsolete since 2011, but The New York Times reported on Dec. 22 that President Barack Obama's administration was dismantling the list anyway.
It's seen largely as a symbolic move, the paper reported, but one intended to distance Obama from his successor's efforts to limit immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries.
"NSEERS was a completely failed counter-terrorism tool and massive profiling program that didn’t yield a single terrorism conviction in nearly a decade," Joanna Lin, a senior attorney with the ACLU, wrote in a statement. "The ACLU applauds the Obama administration for terminating NSEERS for good. With this action, the U.S. is on the right path to protect Muslim and Arab immigrants from discrimination."
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Members of Trump's White House transition team have been talking about reviving NSEERS, and The Times reported that Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and a member of Trump's transition team, was spotted walking into a meeting with Trump while holding a document suggesting the program could be brought back.
Kobach was a former advisor to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who served until 2004 and was one of the key figures behind the implementation of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the powers of law enforcement in the U.S.
Since reports about Trump's possible plans to reinstate NSEERS, Democrats have asked the Obama administration to do away with the system entirely.
“D.H.S. 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, wrote in a statement.
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Hakim called the system "obsolete" and said maintaining it would draw resources away from current efforts to screen potential extremists seeking entry into the U.S.
Critics say NSEERS disproportionately tracked Muslim and Arab men, and some have gone as far as to call it a Muslim registry. On Dec. 20, The Atlantic ran a story warning that it could be revived under the Trump administration, prompting renewed calls for Obama to do away with its framework before Trump takes office.
NSEERS was created by the George W. Bush administration on Sept. 11, 2002, in response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a year earlier.
Under the program, The Atlantic reported, foreign nationals from certain countries were required to check in with the federal government before arriving in and departing from the U.S. It also required others to "report regularly" to immigration officials with the Department of Homeland Security. The latter requirement applied only to men older than 16.
Initially, NSEERS applied to visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, but was expanded to include 24 total majority-Muslim countries, as well as North Korea, according to The Atlantic.
With the NSEERS framework dismantled, Democrats hope Trump will not be able to rebuild the program. If he decides to start from scratch, he won't have help from engineers at prominent American technology companies, who signed a pledge against aiding a replacement.
“We refuse to build a database of people based on their constitutionally protected religious beliefs,” engineers from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple and other technology companies said in the pledge.