Human Rights

Protesters to Obama: Don't Abet Trump's Plan to Target Muslims

Obama faces mounting calls to eliminate a discriminatory Bush-era registry that targets Muslims.

Photo Credit: moveon

Over 100 people staged a spirited march from the Department of Justice to the White House on December 12 to demand that President Barack Obama dismantle a registry that disproportionately targets Muslims, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).

“The march was important because it brought together Muslims and non-Muslims to demand an end to Muslim registries,” Darakshan Raja, co-founder of the Muslim American Women's Policy Forum and program manager for the Washington Peace Center, told AlterNet. “It was important because it's important to keep this issue in the media and the public, and to mobilize in person. We have to be clear that collective punishment, which is embodied in Muslim registries is rejected. Also, we can't normalize any of this.”

Created under the administration of George W. Bush in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, NSEERS forced men and boys who were nationals or foreign citizens of countries deemed a “threat” to register with U.S. authorities. Of the 25 countries targeted, 24 were majority-Muslim.

The more than 80,000 people ensnared in the registry were forced to have their fingerprints and photographs taken, and many were subjected to invasive questioning. According to a report released in 2009 by the the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Penn State, “13,799 were referred to investigations and received notices to appear, and 2,870 were detained” as a result of the program. Meanwhile, NSEERS did not result in a single “terror” conviction.

“What these numbers don’t show are the devastation and disruption in the lives of those left behind,” said Roksana Mun, director of strategy and training at Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). “The years lost between fathers and their children, between sons and their mothers, between brothers and their sisters.”

“What these numbers do show is a program that uses racial and religious profiling to engage in mass deportations of entire communities,” Mun continued. “It reflects a continuation of our country’s inability to learn the same basic lesson on human decency, that it should have learned decades ago from the Japanese internment camps.”

Following sustained opposition from groups like DRUM, the Department of Homeland Security claimed in 2011 that it was “effectively” putting a halt to NSEERS by removing “the list of countries whose nationals have been subject to registration.”

However, the regulatory framework permitting NSEERS—8 CFR 264.1—was left in place by the Obama administration, meaning that a future administration could easily activate the registry. In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security admitted that the regulation was kept on the books “to enable prompt action to require registration of a category or categories of aliens, if necessary, through rapid publication of a Federal Register Notice.”

Hailing from organizations including United We Dream, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and MoveOn, protesters argue that it is unacceptable for large-scale ethnic and racial profiling to be enshrined in U.S. regulatory frameworks.

The issue takes on fresh urgency with President-elect Donald Trump slated to take the White House in just over a month. Trump built his presidential campaign on racist incitement against immigrants, Muslims and the Black Lives Matter movement. A key advisor for his transition team, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, claims that he played a leading role in engineering the NSEERS program when he was an employee for George W. Bush’s justice department. Prominent Trump supporter Carl Higbie, a spokesperson for the pro-Trump Great America PAC, told Fox News in November that the disgraceful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a “precedent” for a potential Muslim registry.

But the Obama administration has so far refused to dismantle the program altogether, rebuffing numerous petitions and an open letter from nearly 200 human and civil rights organizations. Meanwhile, eight out of nine leading tech companies contacted by the Intercept have refused to rule out participation in a potential Muslim registry, prompting outrage from civil rights organizations. In addition to maintaining the NSEERS regulations, Obama has overseen the expansion of the terrorist watch-listing system, which also disproportionately targets Muslims.

The march comes as communities mobilize a nationwide fightback against the incoming Trump administration, which is already populated by a small bevy of white supremacists, anti-Muslim campaigners, climate deniers and war and corporate criminals. In addition to efforts to stop Trump from taking power, these communities are also preparing to defend those likely to be attacked first, including by expanding the sanctuary movement and preparing rapid response plans. In this vein, dozens will gather this weekend at a Washington, D.C. teach-in “resisting Muslim registries.”

“For many years, official governments policies and practices have targeted Muslims as suspect communities in the name of the War on Terror and protecting national security,” Shannon Erwin, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, told AlterNet immediately following the November 8 election. “Those structures have emboldened and encouraged public hatred and bigotry towards our communities. It’s important to recognize what those structures are, so that as we work to bring about a society where no communities are treated as suspect, we can understand what structures have to be dismantled.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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