Sep 15, 2009

Recommendations to the Obama Administration

Below is the executive summary of "NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s efforts to Secure Its Borders," published by the Center for Immigrants’ Rights at Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

"The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program was implemented as a counterterrorism tool in the wake of September 11, 2001. The NSEERS program required certain non-immigrants to register themselves at ports of entry and local immigration offices for fingerprints, photographs and lengthy questioning. The most controversial aspect of the NSEERS program was a “domestic” component that solicited registrations from more than 80,000 males who were inside the United States on temporary visas from Muslim-majority countries. In September 2003, of the more than 80,000 individuals who complied with call-in registration, 13,799 were referred to investigations and received notices to appear, and 2,870 were detained.

Many non-immigrants subjected to the NSEERS program did not understand the details of the program, as the rules were unclear and public outreach and notice were insufficient. NSEERS’s initial mission was to keep track of non-immigrants and prevent terrorist attacks. However, interviews with immigration attorneys representing individuals impacted by NSEERS and policy advocates, and a review of multiple reports and federal court decisions reveal that the NSEERS program was unsuccessful as a counterterrorism tool.

Many of the individuals who legally challenged the NSEERS program entered the United States lawfully, diligently complied with the NSEERS program, were predominantly male and Muslim, and had an immigration violation such as overstaying a visa that came to the attention of the immigration agency after complying with NSEERS. Moreover, many individuals impacted by NSEERS do not appear to have terrorism charges or criminal histories. Notably, many of these individuals have meaningful family, business and cultural ties to the United States.

Indeed, more than seven years after its implementation, NSEERS continues to impact the Arab-American community. Impacted individuals include those who are married to United States citizens or meaningfully employed in the United States. Well-intentioned individuals who failed to comply with NSEERS due to a lack of knowledge or fear have been denied “adjustment of status” (green cards), and in some cases have been placed in removal proceedings under the theory that they “willfully” failed to register. This scenario has torn apart Arab-American families because of the real implications of having a parent or spouse without a legal status. NSEERS has also raised a number of public policy questions. Public outcry, governmental criticism of the program, and judicial challenges demonstrate that the program has not necessarily benefited the United States’ domestic and foreign policy. Today, the United States is at a critical and historic juncture: a new Administration presents an opportunity to restore America’s character, and reexamine and overhaul ill-conceived policies implemented in the last eight years. With this in mind, this white paper offers the following recommendations to the Obama Administration:

1. The Administration should terminate the NSEERS program and repeal related regulations.

2. Individuals who did not comply with NSEERS due to lack of knowledge or fear should not lose eligibility for or be denied a specific relief or benefit, to which they are otherwise NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s Efforts to Secure Its Borders eligible. Similarly, the Administration should provide relief to individuals who were placed in removal proceedings because of their participation in NSEERS.

3. The Administration should allow individuals impacted by NSEERS, who have been removed, to return to the United States, should they have a basis for re-entering the United States. Special consideration should be given to individuals with immediate family members living in the United States and/or those with pending benefits applications.

4. The Administration should eliminate programs that target people based on ethnic origin, race, nationality, religion and/or gender. The Administration should insure that agencies adhere to a standard of individualized suspicion.

5. Upon termination of the NSEERS program, the Administration should issue a formal apology to foreign visitors subject to the NSEERS program, in order to rectify the impression left on many affected communities impacted by the special registration program. The apology should be issued through a press release and a formal letter posted on the website of the Department of Homeland Security. The government should clarify that ethnic origin, race, nationality, religion and/or gender alone are not a sufficient basis of criteria for identifying terrorists.

6. With transparency being a pillar of the current Administration, DHS should release the number of terrorists identified through the NSEERS program and related data, in order to assess the government’s professed success of the program."