Program’s End Is Welcome And Long Overdue But Work Remains For DHS To Repair Damage, Says ACLU
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WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security today, in a long-overdue announcement, said it will indefinitely suspend the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Instituted in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, NSEERS was a domestic immigration enforcement program targeting men and boys from predominantly Arab- and Muslim-majority nations for extraordinary registration requirements with DHS. The program was repeatedly condemned by the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as resulting in widespread profiling of tens of thousands of immigrants from Arab- and Muslim-majority countries.
Although conceived as a program to prevent terrorist attacks, NSEERS proved woefully ineffective as a counterterrorism tool. Among the tens of thousands of men and boys forced to register under NSEERS, none were ever convicted by the U.S. government for a terrorism-related crime. In practice, NSEERS led to the deportations of thousands of people from Arab- and Muslim-majority countries for civil immigration violations, and brought an abrupt end to their productive jobs, property ownership and community ties, including to U.S. citizen family members. It also caused unlawful profiling, arrest and detention of individuals who were not even required to register under the program. The American Civil Liberties Union represented one such individual, an Iraqi refugee who was pulled off an Amtrak train by border patrol agents while en route to Washington, D.C. from Seattle. He was arrested, handcuffed and imprisoned in a Montana jail for nearly a week for failure to register under NSEERS even though as a lawfully admitted refugee he was not required to do so. The government ultimately acknowledged its error and agreed to pay him damages.
The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
“While the ACLU welcomes this long-awaited announcement by DHS to suspend NSEERS indefinitely, there remains much damage to rectify from NSEERS’ discriminatory immigration enforcement. During the past nine years, NSEERS inflicted enormous costs on those people subject to special registration and eroded our government's commitment to the principle of equal protection in law enforcement. The federal government must now work to remedy these injustices and take every available step to reverse the adverse immigration consequences that resulted from individuals being subjected to special registration under NSEERS.”
The following can be attributed to Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel:
“Though DHS has made great progress in indefinitely suspending NSEERS, today’s move simply delists the affected countries and leaves the door open for renewed registration in the future. DHS should completely scrap this program and draw the appropriate lesson from the failure of NSEERS for its larger immigration enforcement strategy. Dragnet immigration enforcement programs that ignore lawful individual grounds for suspicion in favor of enabling group-based profiling are counter-productive to the goals of promoting public safety and national security and contrary to American values.”