Obama administration ending program once used to track mostly Arab and Muslim men

Story highlights

  • Trump adviser says President-elect wouldn't pursue Muslim ban based only on religion
  • Arab American group praises Obama administration's decision

Washington (CNN)The Obama administration said Thursday it was ending a dormant program that once was used to track mostly Arab and Muslim men.

"The Department of Homeland Security is removing outdated regulations pertaining to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS) program, with an immediate effective date," said Neema Hakim, a department spokesman.
The program was suspended in 2011. Hakim said the "intervening years have shown that NSEERS is not only obsolete, but that its use would divert limited personnel and resources from more effective measures."
The New York Times first reported the story.
President-elect Donald Trump has suggested instituting a program that would track Muslim immigrants to the United States.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on CNN's "New Day" Thursday that Trump would not pursue a ban on Muslim immigration to the US based only on religion.
"You're going back to over a year ago in what he said about the (Muslim) ban versus what he said later about it, when he made it much more specific and talked about countries where we know that they've got a higher propensity of training and exporting terrorists," she told CNN's Chris Cuomo after he prodded her to share more details of Trump's plan.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Wednesday called on Obama to dismantle the NSEERS program.
In a letter addressed to Obama, Schneiderman wrote that NSEERS, created after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, did not reduce terrorist activity and instead "undermined trust" in law enforcement and instilled fear in some communities.
"We can't risk giving President-elect Trump the tools to create an unconstitutional religious registry," Schneiderman said in a separate statement.
Schneiderman praised Obama's decision Thursday.
"This is a win for civil rights and for smart, effective law enforcement, as well as for the strong coalition of advocacy organizations and others who fought to dismantle this discriminatory tool," he said. "My office will continue do everything it can to protect the rights of all New Yorkers, and ensure equal justice under the law for all, regardless of religion or national origin."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also hailed the program's end.
"The program was a failed counterterrorism tool, was highly discriminatory, and led to widespread fear and needless dislocation of families across the United States," he said in a statement.
NSEERS, sometimes called "Special Registration," was a program for registering and monitoring non-citizen visa holders -- such as students, workers and tourists -- that President George W. Bush's administration enacted a year after the 9/11 attacks.
The program affected males 16 or older from 25 countries. With the exception of North Korea, all the countries on the list were Arab or had majority Muslim populations.
Proponents of NSEERS said it was necessary to identify and capture terrorists who might enter the country on false pretenses or who were already living in the United States.
Critics said it disproportionately targeted Arabs and Muslims, caused widespread fear within those communities and needlessly punished immigrants.
The program targeted men "regardless of whether they were suspected or accused of any wrongdoing," Schneiderman's statement said.
By 2011, nearly a decade after the program was enacted, NSEERS had not resulted in a single terrorism conviction. The Department of Homeland Security determined in 2011 that the program was "redundant and did not provide any increase in security," Hakim said.
The Obama administration took all 25 countries off its list, but left its primary structure intact.
The ADC on Thursday issued a statement applauding the Obama administration's decision to end the dormant program and vowing to counter any similar programs that Trump may impose.
"The community cannot be at ease; the next administration has indicated that they will consider implementing similar programs," said Abed Ayoub, ADC legal and policy director. "We will work twice as hard to protect our community and ensure such programs do not come to fruition."