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Groups cheer end of program seen as possible precursor to "Muslim registry"

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A broad group of civil rights advocates is cheering an Obama Administration decision this week to dismantle the National Security Entry-Exit Registration system (NSEERS).

That U.S. Homeland Security program required visiting males from 25 countries—nearly all of them Muslim-majority countries--to register with the U.S. government, providing background and other information beyond what’s normally required for a visa.

Started after the 9/11 attacks in 2002, NSEERS had largely been defunct for years. In 2011, the White House “de-listed” the countries that required visitor registration. The program was denounced,even by national security officials, as both logistically burdensome and ineffective in deterring terrorism.

Still, the basic regulatory framework remained on the books. And that concerned many civil rights and Muslim advocacy groups—concerns that were further heightened after Donald Trump’s election.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says this latest move means the Trump administration couldn’t use the program as the basis for a proposed “Muslim registry,” or similar efforts.

“NSEERS could have been used as the framework for any registry program they wanted to implement,” Ayoub said. “The framework was still there, and essentially all anybody had to do, any future administration, [was] just put the program back in place again.”

But now, “They cannot move forward with NSEERS. They would have to reintroduce another program. And they may just do that--we don’t know yet.”

Ayoub says the fight to dismantle NSEERS has brought together a range of groups who are now prepared to continue the fight if similar programs are re-introduced.

“Any program registering individuals based on religion or national origin should not exist,” he said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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