Around 200 Muslim activists and allies marched from the Department of Justice to the White House yesterday, asking Obama to dismantle the indefinitely suspended National Security Exit-Entry Registry System before Trump is elected.
"[Trump immigration advisor] Kris Kobach actually accidentally released the Department of Homeland Security plan a few weeks ago, and number one on the list was reinstituting NSEERS," said Iram Ali, campaign manager with MoveOn.org. "This is why it's so important for President Obama to shut it down now, because it will give us an upper hand going into the next administration."
Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Kobach helped design the system for registering people who entered or lived in the U.S. on visas from certain countries labeled "high risk" because they contained large amounts of terrorist activity.
The program, which targeted principally Arab- and Muslim-majority states, was phased out in 2011 because it was deemed redundant by the Department of Homeland Security and condemned as discriminatory by civil rights groups. Of the 93,000 cases the program produced, there was not a single terrorism conviction.
Activists are worried that the Trump administration will use the existing NSEERS framework, since the program is indefinitely suspended rather than dismantled.
"When our government imposed NSEERS registration, our government rejected those American principles of fairness, equality, and justice and instead imposed a massive profiling program," said Joanne Lin, who is on the Senior Legislative Council with the American Civil Liberties Union. "Now we call on President Obama, before he leaves office, to end 2016 well ... and dismantle NSEERS."
The event was co-organized by MoveOn.org and Desis Rising Up & Moving, and supported by a large coalition of social justice organizations. Marchers bore signs reading "Resist" and "Stop Trump's Muslim Registry." They chanted "Hear us loud, hear us clear, shut down NSEERS" and "We wanna live safe, we wanna live free, we don't want no registry" as they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue.
"There is physical internment, but then there's also surveillance and psychological internment and the idea of fearing being visibly Muslim—the idea that your identity, your Muslim-ness, and also your immigration status—because NSEERS targets both of those identities—is what is criminalized and is seen as suspect, as terrorist, has an impact on our community fabric," says Darakshan Raja, co-director of The Washington Peace Center. "It has also destroyed community."
Although Trump claimed he never called for profiling Muslims, Politifact rated his statement "False."
During interviews with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News and John Dickerson on CBS, Trump detailed his plans to discriminate against Muslims and did not object to the description "profiling." Other promises, such as surveilling mosques and banning Muslims from entering the U.S., obviously target Muslims specifically.
In November, prominent Trump supporter and Great America PAC spokesperson Carl Higbie favorably compared NSEERS to internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II in an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, drawing immediate condemnation from rights groups and sparking fear in the American Muslim community.
Some Muslims are also concerned about Trump's appointees Frank Gaffney, an anti-Islam conspiracy theorist, and Steve Bannon, whose publication Breitbart is rife with white supremacist content and features interviews with anti-Muslim extremists who Bannon touted as experts on Islam.
Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block of Bend The Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, says, "I've heard many people make the strong statement of solidarity that if there were a Muslim registry, then they would register. It's important for everyone to understand that there already is a registry and we have very specific things we need to do right now to dismantle that and prevent it from being amped up."
Kimelman-Block says supporters need to put as much pressure on president Obama as possible dismantle NSEERS and to deepen their relationships with vulnerable communities such as Muslims.
"There are many people who never got the chance to leave that office building after they went in to register [for NSEERS]. There were plenty of families evicted, who had to choose between staying here or going back to a country that their kids didn't even know," said Roksana Mun, Director of Strategy and Training with DRUM. "How many times does a country need to learn the same exact lesson with different people?"