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Taking Weapon Out of Trump's Arsenal, Obama Finally Kills Bush-Era Muslim Registry

ACLU applauds end of "completely failed counter-terrorism tool and massive profiling program that didn’t yield a single terrorism conviction in nearly a decade"

"With this action," says ACLU, "the U.S. is on the right path to protect Muslim and Arab immigrants from discrimination." (Image: ACLU)

With a President Donald Trump on the horizon, civil liberties advocates applauded President Barack Obama on Thursday after his administration announced the end of a federal registration program for Muslim and Arab immigrants.

Established by the George W. Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was criticized since its inception as regressive attempt to profile individuals based on their national heritage and religion.

Though the provision has been dormant since enforcement of it was blocked in 2011, Thursday's announcement signals the government's official cancellation of the policy. According to a statement by the Department of Homeland Security, "the regulatory structure pertaining to NSEERS no longer provides a discernible public benefit as  the program has been rendered  obsolete." 

Though the ACLU long argued the program never offered a "discernible public benefit," the group welcomed the announcement.

"NSEERS was a completely failed counter-terrorism tool and massive profiling program that didn’t yield a single terrorism conviction in nearly a decade," said Joanne Lin, ACLU senior legislative counsel. "The ACLU applauds the Obama administration for terminating NSEERS for good. With this action, the U.S. is on the right path to protect Muslim and Arab immigrants from discrimination."

The move by the outgoing president appears to be the latest counter-measure against President-elect Trump, who made the establishment of a Muslim registry a cornerstone of his campaign.

In a recent post for the ACLU's blog, Lin said the NSEERS framework would be especially dangerous in Trump's hand.

"The President-elect has promised on multiple occasions to target Muslim immigrants for "extreme vetting"—a truly terrifying prospect. In 2017, he could make this threat a reality by activating the dormant National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program with the flip of a switch," she wrote. 

Lin described the program as "not only discriminatory and dangerous" but "completely ineffective" as a security measure. "In its nearly 10 years of operation, NSEERS did not produce a single terrorism conviction. Even the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security — the department’s watchdog — said the program was unreliable and a waste of taxpayers' money."

Despite that—as Common Dreams reported last month—Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped draft the original law and has been an advisor to Trump's transition team, specifically cited NSEERS as a tool that could be resurrected by the President-elect.

Though it may not prevent Trump from establishing some other form of registration program for Muslim immigrants or refugees, there is at least one less tool at his disposal for such efforts.

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