DETROIT - On Thursday, the Obama administration made a bold move to protect Muslim and Arab immigrants from discrimination in abolishing an inactive registry program for visitors from countries where extremist groups operate.
President-elect Trump has otherwise indicated that his administration will consider implementing similar programs, reigniting community unease.
"The Department of Homeland Security is removing outdated regulations pertaining to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems (NSEERS) program, with an immediate effective date," said Neema Hakim, a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 rule change, published in the Federal Register last Friday, will take effect immediately.
NSEERS, sometimes called "Special Registration", was a program for registering and monitoring non-citizen Visa holders, such as students, workers and tourists, enacted under President Bush's administration a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The program targeted 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 accuse the program of disproportionately targeting Arabs and Muslims, causing widespread fear within those communities and needlessly punishing immigrants.
The program, which registered 80,000 foreigners, was suspended in 2011.
NSEERS had not resulted in a single terrorism conviction in the decade after its program was enacted.
In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security determined that the program was "redundant and did not provide any increase in security,”—according to Hakim.
The Obama administration removed all 25 countries off the list, but left its primary structure intact.
Last month, nearly 200 civil rights, interfaith and civic organizations, led by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), asked Obama to abolish the program prior to his departure from office.
The intervening years have shown that NSEERS is not only obsolete, but threatens to divert limited personnel and resources from better use towards more effective measures.
The decision to end NSEERS is a clear win for civil rights, for effective law enforcement and for the strong coalition of individuals and advocacy organizations who fought to dismantle this discriminatory tool.
Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. during his election campaign. He later changed his proposal to suspending immigration from regions reputed to be exporting terrorism.
Trump has never publicly commented on NSEERS, despite making clear his intentions to take a far tougher approach toward immigration than Obama.
His spokesman Jason Miller denied that Muslims would be the target of a new program.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on CNN's "New Day” last Thursday that Trump would not pursue a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. 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," Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo after he prodded her to share more details of Trump's plan.
Trump's cabinet selections, so far, mirrors his campaign rhetoric; thus, the potential of a NSEERS-like comeback is real and frightening. We cannot risk giving Trump the tools to create an unconstitutional religious registry.