Catholic organizations and other faith groups say they are happy with the Obama administration’s last-minute decision to end a type of national Muslim registry.
The National Security Exit-Entry Registration System, known as
NSEERS, began under the George W. Bush administration following the 9/11
attacks and asked that men from some countries in the Middle East
register with the U.S. government when they arrived in the U.S.
It continued during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office even
as organizations, including Catholic groups, have long called for its
In late December, weeks before his administration comes to a close, Obama announced that the program was ending under his watch.
“I’m glad the president took action to end a program that by all
accounts wasn’t effective and undermined core American values,” said
John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an
advocacy group in Washington.
Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., known by the acronym CLINIC
and based in Silver Spring, Maryland, said the decision was a victory.
“Not only was it discriminatory” and failed to lead to the capture of
terrorists, said CLINIC Executive Director Jeanne Atkinson in a
December 22 news release, but also it broke apart families as people
were deported, some for causes such as being a day late after having to
tend to an emergency.
While the program asked that immigrants from North Korea also
register, NSEERS “in effect targeted immigrant Muslims,” said Jordan
Denari Duffner, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge
Initiative, which seeks to educate others about Islamophobia as well as
raise awareness about prejudice and discrimination toward Muslims.
Some see the end of the registry as a way to make it difficult for an
incoming Donald Trump administration to target Muslims through such a
program but others warn that the president-elect’s public views during
the campaign signal tough days ahead for Muslims in the country, with or
without a registry.
“Throughout the campaign, and since, Trump and his advisers have
demonstrated that they see the religion of Islam as a primary source of
violence and terrorism,” said Duffner.
“But they also want to avoid charges of religious discrimination.
Things like NSEERS and ‘extreme vetting,’ rather than a ‘Muslim ban,’
allow Trump’s administration to still focus on Muslims without running
into constitutional issues or a major public outcry.”
The president-elect campaigned by saying his “extreme vetting” of
Muslims and other immigrants would provide a way to keep the country
safe. The way Duffner sees it, what’s been referred to as extreme
vetting “would operate in a similar way to NSEERS in that it would
target Muslims in a non-explicit way.
The immigration questionnaire that the Trump team has been discussing
is based on anti-Muslim stereotypes. … The extreme vetting policy might
sound more nuanced and acceptable than a Muslim ban but as it’s been
discussed, it could have the same impact.”
So, even as groups hailed the decision, some said they would remain vigilant.
“People of faith and diverse religious leaders in pulpits across the
country are now organizing to stand with Muslims and other vulnerable
communities who feel threatened by President-elect Trump’s incoming
administration,” said Gehring.