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DHS ends controversial manual identification program

NSEERS application

The Department of Homeland Security quietly ended a program implemented immediately after the 9/11 attacks to monitor visitors to the U.S. from Arab countries.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a notice with the Federal Register on April 27 saying it was “eliminating” the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) because it was redundant in the face of other identification systems it has implemented over the last six years. THe notice was published April 28. The NSEERS program focused on non-immigrants entering the U.S. from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

DHS said it has implemented “several new automated systems that capture arrival and exit information on nonimmigrant travelers to the United States” that does the job better. The agency said that recapturing the data collected by those system manually, as NSEERS did, was “redundant and no longer provides any increase in security.” It said the notice releases all the designated countries from compliance with NSEERS.

The rules required nonimmigrant Muslim men and boys to report to an immigration office to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed. It also required them to leave the U.S. through specific ports. Failure to comply with the requirements could result in deportation.

The move was welcomed by the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). "We welcome the decision by DHS officials to drop an ineffective and burdensome program that was perceived as a massive profiling campaign targeting individuals based on their religion and ethnicity," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "We support our government's efforts to secure America while remaining an open society that is true to the Constitution."

According to the agency’s Web site, DHS first implemented the program at U.S. ports of entry on Sept. 11, 2002. It began domestic call-in registration on Nov. 5, 2002. Congress had required the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to implement a comprehensive entry-exit program in 1996, with an eye to having that system in place by 2005. NSEERS was the first step in fulfilling that Congressional mandate.  

DHS said NSEERS allowed U.S. officials to run the fingerprints of aliens who may present elevated national security concerns against a database of wanted criminals and known terrorists. It also enabled DHS to electronically determine when an alien overstayed their visa, as three 9/11 hijackers did. The program also allowed authorities to keep track of temporary visa holders’ whereabouts and activities.

From its inception, Muslim and civil rights groups claimed the program unfairly singled out Muslims.


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