This week nearly 200 civil-rights organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama, concerned about the possible revival of the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), which was once used to register and track Muslims.
Bureaucrats often have their own seemingly innocuous language, even when they seek to reinstitute the so-called Muslim registry that was much discussed during the recent presidential election. Instated in 2002 as part of the various rushed legislation in reaction to the attacks on 9/11, many critics realized that the system amounted to religious and racial profiling.
In 2011, most portions were suspended, as after a decade, the program had not resulted in a single terrorism conviction, though it had placed nearly 13,000 people in deportation proceedings.
While policy should be based on good practice and intended effects, the reinstitution of NSEERS seems more based on political rhetoric and an appeal to fear. This week, Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and a lead architect of Arizona’s controversial law SB 1070 that was largely struck down by the Supreme Court, advised Donald Trump and his transition team to bring back the system.
This helped galvanize various civil rights organizations to send their letter to Obama.
Delivered by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the diverse coalition brought together Jewish American organizations and even Japanese American groups, who have been especially vocal. Actor George Takei of “Star Trek” fame has been very critical of the possible registry, remembering his own experiences and the consequences for over 120,000 Japanese Americans who suffered internment and property loss, including two camps that were established in Fresno.
The Fresno-based Sikh youth development organization, the Jakara Movement, is also a signatory to the letter. Our Sikh inspirations, like our ninth Guru, who sacrificed his life for another faith, remind us of “The Letter from Birmingham Jail,” when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The most wide-ranging effect of NSEERS was to require men and boys ages 16 years and older with temporary visas from 25 countries to register at local immigration offices for additional fingerprinting, photographing, invasive interviews and repeated follow-ups. Singling out students, tourists and workers from Muslim-majority countries, those who failed to comply with its measures could be immediately arrested, deported and face various criminal penalties.
While 83,000 men had registered within a year of the implementation, the amount of ill will and suspicion generated seemed largely self-defeating. The system assumes guilt based on the religion and race of the individual, instead of any actual action.
It replaces principles such as evidence of wrongdoing and individual suspicion with assumptions of religious community criminality, collective punishment, and profiling as a substitute for actual policing.
Though the Department of Homeland Security delisted the 25 countries under the program in April 2011 and thus chose to focus on specific threats rather than entire communities, much of the architecture remains in place. Religious and racial profiling not only deserves national condemnation, but even international organizations such as Amnesty International have issued statements against these practices.
The history of Japanese Americans, specifically its memory here in Fresno, is a testament that political opportunism over principle must be fought by all. Even in the recent Fresno mayoral election, where policing took such a central role in the debates, an overstretched police should not be enforcing immigration through profiling.
While electoral political rhetoric can be extreme in its toxicity, as a new regime gets set to take the reins in Washington, D.C., turning a final page on the excesses in the name of national security is vital. The joint letter states: “As organizations that represent diverse communities and that are committed to civil and immigrant rights, we firmly believe that removal of the NSEERS framework is a necessary imperative.”
“We ask the administration to immediately take steps to remove the regulatory structure of NSEERS and stop any future use of the program.”
We hope other Fresnans and Americans will join our voice in calling for Obama to end NSEERS and any talk of a so-called Muslim registry, including some of our Valley representatives such as Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
Deep Singh of Fresno is the executive director of the Jakara Movement, a youth development nonprofit and the largest Sikh volunteer organization in the United States.