The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has officially ended a Bush-Era registry created after 9/11 to track men from predominantly Muslim countries. The registry known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was shown to be ineffective and had not been used for years, but the basic structure remained. NSEERS will be dismantled through a published regulation in the Federal Register this week called a final rule.
In justifying this action, the administration noted in the background information accompanying the rule that the government now has systems in place that are much more efficient at collecting information relevant to determining whether or not a foreign national poses a security threat and should be admitted to the U.S. In fact, with the suspension of the domestic registration requirements of NSEERS announced in 2003 and the de-listing of targeted countries in 2011, the functions of this regulation had been rendered un-operational long ago.
In part, the administration is responding to recommendations from the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). In 2012, the OIG issued a report about border security and information sharing about foreign nationals. The OIG report listed several information collection programs the government had in place at the time the report was issued that were much more efficient compared to the NSEERS program.
For example, NSEERS relied on self-reported information from target populations. Meanwhile, the government was collecting information from a much broader population of noncitizens entering the country—through fingerprints, flight manifests, travel and identity documents and intelligence sources. None of these methods depended on what individuals might say in an interview with a government agent. These other systems were more valuable in determining potential security risks.
All of the other border security programs in place by 2012 made NSEERS obsolete, and the Inspector General concluded that “[l]eaving the regulatory structure of the NSEERS program in place provides no discernable public benefit.” The Inspector General encouraged DHS “to dismantle the vestiges of the program.”
While officially ending NSEERS was long overdue, this alone will not prevent the Trump administration from attempting to follow through on its threats to create a registry based on religion or national origin; however it does stop them from using the existing NSEERS infrastructure without publishing a new regulation.
The new administration should learn from the lessons of NSEERS that using broad, discriminatory programs that violate civil liberties do little to keep the nation safe. National registries that cast suspicions against large groups of people based on what they believe or from where they came strike at the heart of who we are as a country.