Obama Dismantles Post-9/11 Muslim Surveillance Program Before Trump Takes Office

TRNN speaks to the ACLU and grassroots advocates who hailed President Obama’s move against the NSEERS program, which they long criticized as ineffective and discriminatory

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: On Thursday, President Obama moved to dissolve a post-9/11 program to track Muslims, as President-elect Trump doubled down on his plans to ban and create a Muslim registry, after a spate of terror attacks in Europe.

MAN: …cause you to rethink or re-evaluate your plans to create a Muslim register … immigration to the United States?

DONALD TRUMP: Hey, you’ve known my plans all along, and it’s been proven to be right.

JAISAL NOOR: The move comes after grassroots groups for years had pressured Obama to scrap the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, or NSEERS. Some 83,000 people from countries deemed high risk, mostly Muslim, were required to undergo interrogations and fingerprinting on entering the United States.

PROTESTERS: …hey, hey, ho, ho, ho, NSEERS has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho…

JAISAL NOOR: Some non-citizen male US residents over the age of 16, from mostly Muslim majority countries, were required to register in person at government offices, and periodically check in. Advocates say 13,000 were put into deportation proceedings, and NSEERS was abandoned in 2011, after it was deemed redundant by the Department of Homeland Security and criticized by civil rights groups for unfairly targeting immigrants from Muslim majority countries.

To get a response to the news, we spoke to the ACLU of Massachusetts Staff Attorney, Adriana Lafaille, and Darakshan Raja, Coordinator of the Washington Peace Centre.

I started by asking them what they’d say to proponents, like President-elect Trump, that say such programs are necessary to keep Americans safe.

ADRIANA LAFAILLE: Well, what I think the history of this program itself demonstrated is, that it was a program that created a mass of racial profiling, and marginalized Arab and Muslim communities, without actually bringing a single ascertainable benefit, as far as counter-terrorism.

DARAKSHAN RAJA: Actually, in terms of being, quote-unquote, “a program,” to deal with national security issues, it was a total disaster and failure because it didn’t do that at all. What it did do, was definitely destroy many of our communities, it did result in many people being again, put into deportation proceedings, and particularly for undocumented immigrant working-class Muslim communities. You know, there are parts of New York City in little pockets. I know I come from a community in the Bronx, in particular, that just basically disappeared.

JAISAL NOOR: We also discussed the history of NSEERS.

ADRIANA LAFAILLE: The ACLU was opposed to this program from the beginning, as were many other groups, and their many advocates who have been fighting against this program since 2002, and really deserve the credit for what is happening today. The Domestic Registration Program… that complement of NSEERS, continued for a year and three months, ending in late 2003, and then the Entry/Exit Registration Program, which applied to people at the moment that they entered and left the United States, that was discontinued in 2011, also because of public pressure.

What we know is, that the Office of the Inspector General itself, within Homeland Security, recognized that this program had not yielded positive results, and that it was a program that was obsolete and should be terminated.

JAISAL NOOR: I asked what role public pressure played. It cleared the delivery of over 300,000 signatures on December 12th, to demand NSEERS be dismantled.

DARAKSHAN RAJA: The story very much was that there was actually really no public pressure, and there was no real public information on this program, at all. I do think, though, now in particular, with this election, with the kind of people – how upset people have been – that there is a difficult tone from the public, that we are hearing that is against Muslim registry, that is against the kind of Islamophobia and targeting via the state. So, I do think we are talking about a different moment, which I do think is also credited – really enlarged to groups like CSIS(?), rising up and … , having grassroots groups, who have member bases, who have been impacted, who’ve been on really, the front lines.

JAISAL NOOR: Lastly, I asked, if this will stop Trump’s plan for a Muslim registry.

ADRIANA LAFAILLE: What we know, is that we have to remain vigilant. After January 2017, when Trump becomes President, he won’t be able to simply reactivate the NSEERS program, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that he could do, that would be equally problematic. And so we certainly have to remain vigilant in continuing to stand up for our communities, and ensuring that the rights of all people here are respected.

DARAKSHAN RAJA: …I know from a main article that came out in the Washington Post yesterday, that Donald Trump did say that he is going to move forward with the Muslim registry, and he is going to move forward with these bans. And so, I don’t necessarily think that is going to stop Donald Trump from expanding already the war on terror apparatus, or all of these registries, or all this mass surveillance, which we’re really talking about, or criminal enforcement into immigrant Muslim communities.

I think what this really does do, is that it shows the public and particularly the power of the grassroots, that when we make some clear demands, we do have an opportunity to get those met. I also think that there are some coalitions that have been formed. There are new voices at the table. Again, directly impacted folks are leading this movement right now, and I think that that is what the positive lining to all of this had been.

JAISAL NOOR: NSEERS will officially be dissolved Friday morning. For The Real News Network, this is Jaisal Noor.

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