May 28, 2010

NSEERS and Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law: What’s the Connection?

By Priya Murthy, Esq. Policy Director at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

You’ve probably heard about Arizona’s recent anti-immigrant legislation signed into law in late April. Under the new policy, police are required to determine the immigration status of any one that they stop, detain, or arrest. In addition, it also allows race to be used as a factor in determining whether someone is in the country unlawfully and makes it a crime to not carry your immigration papers.

What does this have to do with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a post-9/11 initiative instituted by the federal government requiring certain male nationals of predominantly Arab and Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan, to register with the government? The connections run deeper than you may first think.

First off, it’s probably no coincidence that both policies share the same chief architect and proponent, Kris Kobach. While at the Department of Justice in the wake of 9/11, he spearheaded efforts within the federal government that established the NSEERS program. In the years that passed, he began assisting state and local lawmakers in drafting, defending, and implementing anti-immigrant policies in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and, most recently, Arizona.

While sharing the same “inventor” is disturbing enough, the real similarities between the two policies become clear when you look at their impact on communities. Profiling is the result of both NSEERS and the Arizona law. Whether it is requiring individuals to register with the government simply because of their religion or national origin or allowing police to check the immigration status of anyone who appears “foreign”, the discrimination borne by communities of color is evident.

Communities that have been affected by profiling (including African-Americans, Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Muslims, Sikhs, and South Asians), know all too well that such policies diminish trust with law enforcement and undermine public safety. As a result of NSEERS, witnesses and victims of crimes (such as domestic violence, hate crimes, and even national security threats) were reluctant to reach out to police for assistance, and the Arizona law stands to have the same repercussions. At the same time, there is no evidence that either program will achieve the purported goal of keeping this country any safer.

Which is why it’s no surprise that organizations that have worked with communities affected by NSEERS and other post-9/11 policies resulting in profiling have come out against the Arizona law. Two Arizona-based organizations, Arizona South Asians for Safe Families and the local chapter of theMuslim American Society joined a lawsuit, filed by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and theAsian American Justice Center, challenging the new law’s constitutionality. National civil and immigrant rights organizations advocating on behalf of post-9/11 affected communities have also expressed concerns about the Arizona law as well, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Rights Working Group, Muslim Public Affairs Council, and South Asian Americans Leading Together. Our communities know that profiling is wrong - whether it happens because of NSEERS or because of Arizona’s law, which is we need to stand together against policies that perpetuate it.