About 150 people marched to the White House today to ask President Obama to rescind a program dormant since 2011. The program, which registered foreigners from mostly Muslim countries, was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and used to deport thousands of people. The protesters are concerned about the potential for President-elect Trump to use the program, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), to register and deport Muslims.
The demonstration, organized by MoveOn.org, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), the ACLU and many others, comes soon before President-elect Doanld Trump takes office. Many people fear that he will follow up on shifting and often contradictory campaign promises capitalizing on racism and xenophobia directed against Muslims. They have included “extreme vetting” for Muslim immigrants and Syrian refugees and some kind of database of American Muslims.
Such a registry, they believe, could be used as a racial-profiling tool to intimidate, detain or deport residents and citizens. Some even fear that internment camps could be revived, like those confining Japanese-Americans during World War II.
What many people may not realize is that a registry already exists, created and implemented by the Bush administration. NSEERS registered about 85,000 people, and about 13,000 were deported under the program.
President Obama suspended NSEERS in 2011. But when Trump takes office as president, he could simply reactivate it.
Speaking to the crowd at the Department of Justice, Arim Ali of MoveOn.org said she had just delivered 341,000 petition signatures to White House staffers asking President Obama to completely dismantle the program.
NSEERS applied to boys and men 16 and older who held non-citizen visas, including tourists and students. Muhammed Khan of EmpowerChange.org said his neighborhood in Queens was devastated when fathers, brothers, and uncles disappeared.
“Obama needs to shut down NSEERS, and he needs to do it now,” he said. “We must do everything we can to resist it.”
Roksana Mun of DRUM described how the organization received frantic calls from families in the 2000s. Neighborhoods like Midwood in Brooklyn became “ghost towns,” she said. Girls and boys as young as 14 had to drop out of school in an effort to replace the missing income of breadwinners who had been deported. A climate of fear caused many to “self-deport,” she said. She described the program as “egregious racial profiling.”
“It’s like a machine ready to be turned back on and be weaponized against Muslim communities,” she said.
Jafar Alam was one of those affected directly by NSEERS. He came to the United States from Bangladesh in 1999. In 2003, he had an immigration application pending when he was forced to register. He stood in line with hundreds of men in front of a federal building in New York. A year later, deportation proceedings began. He feared for his 8-year-old daughter, who had hearing difficulties and needed cochlear implants.
Fortunately, he said, DRUM advocated on his behalf, and he was able to stay largely because of his daughter’s special needs. She is now in college. Alam described how families undergo “extreme emotional distress and isolation.”
“We need President Obama to give us a fighting chance,” he said.