May 31, 2011

A Post-9/11 Registration Effort Ends, but Not Its Effects

A Post-9/11 Registration Effort Ends, but Not Its Effects
Published: May 30, 2011

In the jittery months after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government created a program that required thousands of Arab and Muslim men to register with the authorities, in an effort to uncover terror links and immigration violations.

After complaints that the practice, known as special registration, amounted to racial profiling, the Homeland Security Department scaled back the program in 2003, and ended it late last month, saying it “no longer provides a unique security value.”

But for Mohammed G. Azam, a 26-year-old Bangladeshi native who came to the United States when he was 9, its legacy lives on. When he registered in Manhattan in 2003, officials began deportation proceedings, and now, eight years and numerous hearings later, his case has outlasted the program.

Mr. Azam is one of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people still caught in the program’s net, immigration experts say.

More than two dozen New York elected officials have rallied behind Mr. Azam, who came to this country as a child and overstayed his visa. A soft-spoken man known to his friends as Johnny, Mr. Azam manages a Häagen Dazs store at the South Street Seaport and wants to open a Subway sandwich franchise. He graduated from Monroe College in the Bronx in 2009.

“I have big plans,” he said. “But I’m always scared that I’m going to be deported.”

The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, along with a host of state legislators, sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials last week praising Mr. Azam as “a model citizen” who should be allowed to stay indefinitely.

Most important, Mr. Azam has also gained the support of Gabriel C. Videla, an immigration judge who ruled in February that his deportation case be thrown out and that he be granted permanent resident status.

The immigration agency appealed that decision, just as it did in 2007 when another judge threw out the case because of violations committed by its agents. Agency officials declined to comment, a spokesman said.

The registration program uncovered little intelligence — 11 of the more than 85,000 men who came forward in the first year were found to have ties to terrorism — but it caught thousands of people who had been living in the country illegally, leading to a significant wave of deportations.

“It was a kind of knee-jerk targeting that took place in the wake of Sept. 11,” said Nancy Morawetz, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the New York University School of Law, which represents Mr. Azam.

Mr. Azam came to the authorities’ attention by registering, as was required, but his case now hinges on unrelated questions about his age, and the cost of bureaucratic delay.

His father, Mohammed Hossain, applied for permanent resident status in 2001, when Mr. Azam was 16, through a program that allowed immigrants to pay a $1,000 fine and clear their records of visa-related violations. Because of an extensive backlog, Mr. Hossain was not approved until 2007, when his son was 22 — an adult in the eyes of immigration officials.

Mr. Hossain was able to sponsor his wife and daughter for permanent resident status, but Mr. Azam was denied because, immigration authorities contended, he was now too old to benefit from his father’s new status.

His lawyers called that argument unfair. “If they had processed this quickly, he would be a permanent resident today,” Ms. Morawetz said.

Judge Videla agreed, ruling in February that Mr. Azam should not be penalized for “the extraordinary administrative delays” that stalled his father’s application for so long. The judge cited a 2002 law Congress passed to help keep families together; it allows relatives of visa applicants to retain their status as children, even if they are over 21 by the time their case is considered.

But immigration authorities said they would appeal that ruling, pressing forward with their effort to deport Mr. Azam.

Mr. Stringer, among others, is asking officials to drop the appeal. “He is what our country is all about,” he said of Mr. Azam. “For ICE people to dig in their heels, I think, is just outrageous.”

Mr. Azam has managed to stay sanguine, despite the grinding worry and the personal costs — the case will keep him from attending his sister’s wedding this summer in Bangladesh.

“One-third of my life has gone to this immigration process,” he said. “I grew up here. This is my country.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 31, 2011, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: A Post-9/11 Registration Effort Ends, but Not Its Effects..

May 18, 2011

Letter to DHS Secretary Regarding Unfinished Work Around NSEERS

May 17, 2011

The Honorable Janet Napolitano Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

The undersigned organizations are writing to request a meeting with you and your delegates to discuss the residual populations affected by the National Security Entry-Exit System (NSEERS) program, and possible remedies for such individuals. In light of the President’s Executive Order directing agencies to review existing regulations that “may be outmoded, ineffective, insufficient or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand, or repeal them in accordance with what has been learned,” we are also recommending that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repeal the regulations that govern NSEERS or special registration. We appreciate DHS’ recent rule published in the Federal Register1 suspending the NSEERS program for nationals and citizens from 25 predominantly-Muslim countries previously required to register. However, we believe the intent and spirit of the rule (characterized as “effectively ending [the] registration process” by DHS itself2) requires DHS to implement a specific policy reprieving the scores of individuals who are currently or have been affected by NSEERS; to provide information on databases of individuals who participated in the program; and to consider eliminating the underlying regulatory framework entirely.

As you know, the NSEERS program was controversial from its inception in 2002 because of its discriminatory nature, lack of notice and procedures by DHS about the program, and the inability

of DHS to process NSEERS cases. The program’s ineffectiveness as a national security tool was highlighted by DHS itself when it confirmed, “As threats to the United States evolve, DHS seeks to identify specific individuals and actions that pose specific threats, rather than focusing on more general designations of groups of individuals, such as country of origin.”3

A less publicized impact of the NSEERS program are the scores of individuals who currently are “stuck” in the immigration process, have been denied a benefit by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), have been denied admission, placed in removal proceedings, and/or ordered removed due to an NSEERS-related issue. The impact of NSEERS on individuals and their families is striking when considering the number of individuals who are happily married to a U.S. citizen, gainfully employed and/or squarely eligible for removal relief, but who are treated differently and unequally because of an NSEERS issue. To this end, we believe that DHS must issue guidance that calls for the favorable exercise of discretion for individuals facing an immigration consequence as a result of NSEERS. This guidance must be adopted by USCIS, CBP and ICE to ensure that individuals who are seeking a benefit, may be eligible for a benefit, facing removal, or seeking admission into the U.S. are treated similarly and favorably.

Also attached is a report issued by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Penn State Dickinson Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s Efforts to Secure Its Borders” which illustrates the importance of addressing the residual impact of NSEERS and the impact that it continues to have on community members.

Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions, please contact Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia at

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Abed Ayoub

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Muslim Public Affairs Council

Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights, Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia*

Rights Working Group South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, Priya Murthy

*affiliation listed for informational purposes only


cc: John Sandweg, Counselor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary, DHS Mary Kate Whalen, Managing Counsel, Office of General Counsel, DHS David Heyman, Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy, DHS Margo Schlanger, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, DHS

John Wagner, Executive Director, CBP Lori Scialabba, Deputy Director, CIS Beth Gibson, Assistant Deputy Director, ICE

1 “Removing Designated Countries from the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), 76 Federal Register 82 (April 28, 2011), pp.23830-23831. Available at 10305.pdf.

2 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Press Office, “Fact Sheet: DHS Streamlines Collection of Data for Individuals Entering and Exiting the United States.” (April 27, 2011). Available at

3 Supra note 1, at 23830.

May 17, 2011


News Updates: NSEERS Rule

May 17, 2011- The U.S. government has ended a controversial counterterrorism program created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that required men living in the U.S. who came from mostly Muslim countries to register with federal authorities. Called NSEERS -- National Security Entry-Exit Registration System -- the program required registration, interviews and fingerprinting of male visitors 16 and older from Muslim nations as well as North Korea. The program targeted men entering the country as well as more than 80,000 men already in the U.S., about 1,000 of them from metro Detroit. Nearly 13,800 residents were further investigated, and 2,870 were later deported. But not a single case resulted in anyone being charged with terrorism -- a fact that experts say proves the program was a failure that unfairly harassed thousands. NSEERS did "not catch terrorists," said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, a law professor at Penn State University who has extensively researched the program. "It was ineffective and alienating."

May 17, 2011- The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on April 28 that it would terminate the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), one of the most controversial immigration programs implemented in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

May 6, 2011- Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government established a policy requiring men and boys from 25 countries - almost all Muslim, and all of them in Asia or Africa - to report for "special registration." Turns out it wasn't such a hot idea.


How the Hunt for Bin Laden Made U.S. Muslims and Immigrants Threats [Colorlines]

May 4, 2011- Ten years after Sept. 11, 2001, the animating target of the war on terror is dead, his body cast into the sea. A chapter is closed. Yet, in many communities here in the United States, it seemed the target was never just Osama bin Laden. For Arabs and Muslims in the U.S., and for those lumped carelessly together with them, the war on terrorism has not been an abstraction waged in far off lands, but a fight that’s engulfed communities right here at home.

May 3, 2011- After nine years of pressure from civil rights advocates, the Department of Homeland Security has quietly announced the end of NSEERS (National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, sometimes called Special Registration), one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America, Colorlines reports.