Mar 20, 2012

We Applaud the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) recommendation to fully terminate controversial National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS)

By Aadika Singh and Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia

The NSEERS program, which begun as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, required certain non-immigrants to register at ports of entry and local immigration offices. Registrants were fingerprinted, photographed, and often subjected to lengthy questioning. The most controversial component of NSEERS which required males from mainly Muslim-majority countries to register, was a clear example of racial profiling, and was found both by the 9/11 Commission and DHS itself, to be ineffective and inconvenient.

In its report entitled “Information Sharing on Foreign Nationals: Border Security,”, the OIG determined that the NSEERS database is unreliable, that the program remains excessively onerous for registrants who continue to be subjected to lengthy questioning and multiple data checks, and that it makes for an inefficient use of government resources and detracts DHS agents from conducting more targeted homeland security efforts. DHS has estimated that the program, at its height, cost American taxpayers more than $10 million annually.

Until April 2011, the NSEERS program required non-immigrants from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries to register under the NSEERS program each time they arrived in or departed from the United States, or had to obtain a waiver of these requirements. In April 2011, DHS took an important step by publishing a Notice in the Federal Register delisting the countries whose nationals were required to register under the NSEERS program. Unfortunately, the April Notice did not address the many individuals and families who continue to be impacted by the NSEERS program because they did not register when the Federal Register told them to do so, or because an immigration violation was discovered following their compliance with the NSEERS program. Ten years later, the reach of NSEERS touches men who are married to United States citizen spouses or the fathers of United States citizen children among others.

The OIG has notably concluded that there is “no longer a value in the NSEERS program” and noted concerns that the program remains in existence, providing “The NSEERS program for special registration of certain categories of aliens from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries, and the database that supports this program, is obsolete and should be terminated. … Leaving the regulatory structure of the NSEERS program in place provides no discernable public benefit. Deficiencies we identified in the NSEERS program were not related to the composition of the list of subject nationalities, but rather to the insufficient value of the NSEERS data.”

DHS sent an important message to communities and stakeholders in April 2011 when it conceded that NSEERS was an ill-conceived program and removed the countries whose nationals and citizens were stung by the program. However, since the inception of NSEERS, our position has been that the program should remove the penalties for individuals affected by the NSEERS program in the absence of egregious adverse factors, and remove the regulatory framework in its entirety.

For additional resources, please see:
Race Matters Blog on NSEERS

NSEERS: The Consequences of America’s Efforts to Secure Its Borders, American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights, March 31, 2009.

Center for Immigrants’ Rights

Rights Working Group