ACLU Calls Changes to Immigrant Registration System Positive Step, But Criticizes Half-Measures and Continuing Confusion

December 1, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union cautiously welcomed the announcement this morning by the Department of Homeland Security that it would be suspending parts of a controversial immigrant registration and tracking system — known by the acronym NSEERS — but emphasized that most of the program’s provisions remain in effect.

“These changes suspend one requirement under NSEERS but leave untouched the other provisions that still unfairly target immigrants for detention and deportation because of their religion, ethnicity or national origin,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “It’s crucial to note that the department cited lack of effectiveness in its narrowing of the program, exposing the bankruptcy of such discrimination as a security measure.”

The National Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, as originally implemented, required tens of thousands of men over the age of 16 who were citizens or nationals of mostly Muslim countries to register with their local immigration office or face possible arrest and deportation.

Under the change announced today, the government “suspended” the requirement that immigrants must return to immigration offices for annual re-registration and 30 day “follow-up” interviews.

The ACLU welcomed this modification but stressed that all the other requirements of NSEERS remain in place and will perpetuate the discrimination that lies at the heart of the program.

The proposed changes do not modify the confusing “departure requirements,” applicable to anyone who was required to register under NSEERS, and do not cure the government’s failure to give registrants accurate, timely and understandable information about the requirements of NSEERS. In addition, there will be no relief for those who have already missed re-registration or interview deadlines or who did not understand the departure rule.

Also, immigrants from particular Arab and Muslim countries will continue to be singled out for “special registration” when entering the country, and DHS is reserving the right to insist that registered immigrants re-register with authorities on a “case-by-case” basis.

Combined with these troubling remnants of NSEERS, the ACLU also expressed concern with a new national border security system set to go into effect on January 5, which could also be used discriminatorily. Under the so-called US Visit program, which effects 24 million foreign visitors to the United States, countries without visa waiver programs will be required to include fingerprints and photos in their citizens’ passports. While US Visit is less overtly discriminatory, the ACLU said, it still could permit immigration authorities to detain and deport non-citizens based largely on their ethnicity, religion or country of origin.

The ACLU expressed the hope that today’s announcement indicated that DHS was re-evaluating the discriminatory and counterproductive policies of the Ashcroft Justice Department.

“Today’s announcement is a good first step but it does not address the failure of the program, the discrimination it perpetuates, the confusion that remains and the damage already done,” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrant Rights’ Project. “The same reasons – and many more – that are causing the government to suspend the re-registration requirement compel the elimination of the other NSEERS requirements as well.”

More information on NSEERS can be found at:

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