FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEApril 28, 2011
CONTACT: Fahd Ahmed (940) 391-2660; Monami Maulik (347) 385-9113
DRUM Welcomes Victory in Ending NSEERS and
Calls for Accountability for Thousands of Muslim
Families Already Torn Apart
NEW YORK – After years of organizing to end one of the worst racial profiling policies, DRUM celebrates the suspension of the controversial National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) also known as ‘Special Registrations’ by the Department of Homeland Security yesterday. DRUM led the Coalition against Special Registrations in New York City and joined advocates across the country in campaigning to end the first phase started in 2002 wherein over 84,000 Muslim boys and men between the ages of 16 and 45 registered, leading to over 13,000 put into deportation proceedings based on civil immigration violations, and causing around 2,800 to be detained, all as a result of lawfully complying with the program. Thousands of families have been torn apart, jobs lost, and neighborhoods and communities devastated, many of which have still yet to recover. This massive and ineffective profiling campaign based on religion and ethnicity led to zero identifications and convictions of anyone associated with any cases of terrorism, but has come at extensive social, ethical, and economic costs.
As DRUM leader, Sultana Jahangir Alam, whose husband, Mohammad Alam, was deported and her whole family had to leave says from Canada, “It is good hear such news, but at the same time, too much damage has been done and needs to be rectified. My family was forced to leave our home in the U.S. where my daughters were born. All of us were deported for no reason, for having done nothing wrong. We were victimized through a process that criminalizes immigrants. People who came to the U.S. to find shelter found only suffering and racist targeting. We hope that there will now be a strong movement to achieve immigrant rights in a currently unjust system.” The program was widely condemned by the affected communities, immigrant and civil rights advocates and organizations, and the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as resulting in massive profiling of tens of thousands of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.
After organizing ended the domestic program, NSEERS continued to subject thousands more to deportation at ports-of-entry. The port-of-entry registrations subjected visitors from the designated countries, to be subjected to being photographed, fingerprinted, interrogated, and face additional inspections on entry and on exit from the United States, and instituted a mechanism to keep tabs on them for the duration of their visits. The broad leeway provided by such immigration policies has also provided as easy pretense and hook for other law enforcement agencies to racially profile and target Arab, Middle Eastern, North African, Muslim, and South Asian communities.
In the aftermath of 9/11, and with the threat of the special registrations program and the prospects of dragnet-style immigration raids, hundreds of families had fled to Canada hoping for better immigration prospects. Over 100 members of DRUM are these families who were denied entry to Canada and subsequently detained by the US immigration officials, while others filed asylum or refugee claims in Canada with most of them being denied and then being deported back to the US to face the same struggles here.
While the program has been suspended indefinitely through the delisting of the affected countries, it still remains on the books and leaves the door open for renewed registration in the future. The federal government must make amends and remedy the injustices, starting with a complete scraping of the program, reversal of the ongoing adverse immigration consequences on thousands of families, and an assessment of the massive failures of such ineffective immigration enforcement strategies.
After Nine Years of Pressure, DHS Finally Drops ‘SB1070 for Muslims’
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Friday, April 29 2011, 3:51 PM EST
Tags: Muslim Americans
Some rare good news came in a press release from the Department of Homeland Security yesterday (via CAIR):
In light of the development of and improvements to the Department’s information collection systems and international information sharing agreements, the Secretary has determined that subjecting nationals from designated countries to a special registration process that manually recaptures data already collected through automated systems is redundant and does not provide any increase in security.
After careful consideration, the Secretary of Homeland Security, by this notice, is removing all currently designated countries from the listing of countries whose nationals and citizens are required to comply with NSEERS registration requirements: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
The end of NSEERS (National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, sometimes called Special Registration), one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America, comes as a pleasant surprise for immigration advocates. And while the agency’s immediate reasons for the program’s sudden shutdown aren’t clear — be they pressure from the White House or simple administrative costs — it’s a palpable civil rights victory for immigrant communities of color. “I think the news surprised a lot of us,” says Monami Maulik, executive director of the NYC working-class Arab and South Asian community organization DRUM. “But really, we’ve been meeting with legislators for years about ending this.”
Initiated in September 2002, NSEERS functioned like Arizona’s SB 1070, with working-class Muslims as the target. Its first phase required all non-citizen male residents, ages 16 to 65, from a list of ‘suspect’ nations, to register at INS offices. Thousands of families went out of their way to comply with the law, thinking it would be part of the government-sponsored pathways to citizenship that they were already participating in. Instead, in July 2003, the Washington Post reported it as the deportation of “the largest number of visitors from Middle Eastern and other Muslim countries in U.S. history — more than 13,000 of the nearly 83,000 men older than 16 who complied with the registration program by various deadlines between last September and April.”
The impact was felt especially by working-class South Asian, Arab, Sikh and Muslim communities in New York City; the economic impact of losing fathers, sons, and husbands meant that many families suddenly faced homelessness. The Muslim community in Coney Island is said to have lost a full third of its population almost overnight. In its later phases, NSEERS focused on U.S. ports of entry, with the same haphazard scrutiny and interrogations.
Maulik is a green card holder herself. “I had to go through the whole thing — retina scan, fingerprinting — every time,” she says. “And if anything had been triggered, I’d, well, I’d be in trouble.” She spoke of the taxi drivers she helps organize; for them, visiting home to help care for an elderly parent meant risking an old traffic ticket raising a flag and triggering deportation proceedings, which would cut the entire family off from a source of income.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t leave the country, even if they get status and they’re able to, because they’re just very afraid — that conditions back home, that U.S. relations with their home country, even something in their past that may not have been an issue could trigger something,” Maulik says. Numbers aren’t public for how many people were deported or turned away through the program’s port-of-entry operations.
So why drop NSEERS now? Maulik thinks it’s a political calculation by a tarnished DHS, “in a moment where they’ve really gotten worse in two years under the Obama administration in terms of general racial profiling.” As Seth Freed Wessler reported here last week, despite the federal government’s disavowing of SB 1070, the deportation pipeline still begins in Washington. It could also be a gesture of goodwill towards the Middle East’s new post-revolutionary governments. Or maybe it’s just the extra paperwork created by the program’s overlap with more-automated, less-racist US-VISIT.
But one thing’s certain, and that’s that changes like this don’t happen unless there’s community pressure. Says Maulik: “When [the first wave of deportations in 2002] happened in Los Angeles, when five hundred women showed up outside, waiting for their husbands and brothers and sons to come out, that sparked it. And then we started doing demonstrations en masse in New York, and know-your-rights presentations. There was so much mass public pressure about it that that forced the first phase to end. And this second time around, that had a lot to do with it.”
Maulik also cautions that the program is dormant, not abolished, and there’s still been no accountability. “There have been no reparations, despite the fact that none of these people were found to have anything to do with terrorism. They were targeted and deported based on civil probation violations, based on their religion and nationality — and that precedent allows something like SB 1070, or could allow the next national security crisis, however it’s defined, to resurrect it. This is a dark period in U.S. history, and these families aren’t going to get their lives back.”
Nationwide SB 1070 for Muslims: On the Books Since 2002
Photo: Getty Images/Spencer Platt
Monday, January 31 2011, 5:45 PM EST
Crossposted from the American Prospect.
Earlier today at the American Prospect, Matt Duss makes the argument for viewing political Islam rationally, pointing out that, despite what we’re told, Islamism does not equal our enemy:
Given the amount of right-wing energy being spent scaring Americans about extremist Muslims under their beds and “creeping Sharia” phantoms in their closets, such a shift in posture toward engaging with Islamists is far easier talked about than implemented. But this is a policy fight that the administration must take on. Casting “Islamism” writ large as inherently violent and irretrievably hostile to democracy is not only incorrect; it’s also strategically short-sighted.
Matt’s specifically endorsing reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; however, it’s unlikely that they’ll take our hand unless we unclench our fist. And few of our leftover War On Terror domestic policies are as explicitly anti-Muslim as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System — NSEERS, or Special Registration, now entering its ninth year on the books.
Established a year after 9/11, NSEERS required non-citizen males over the age of 16 from Muslim-majority nations, including Egypt and Tunisia, to register at INS offices. As an anti-terrorism measure, it was laughably similar to the old gag of mailing outstanding warrants a notice that they’d won a new speedboat, to be redeemed at the police station (except without even the speedboat!). Numbers are hard to come by on how many terrorist plots were voluntarily foiled.
NSEERS’ less explicit goal, however, was achieved in spades; undocumented immigrants went in hoping for a path to citizenship, and they didn’t come out. Combined factors of misinformation, language access issues, and simple civic responsibility meant that 14000 of the 83000 men who complied with the law were arrested, held in ICE detention centers, and eventually deported. The effect on immigrant communities of color in New York City was deleterious; community organizations like DRUM scrambled to provide support for the thousands of families facing the emotional and financial loss of a father, son, or husband.
Like Arizona’s infamous Latino-targeting SB 1070, NSEERS is less a law than a reason to make arrests. And while NSEERS lost most of its teeth when it was replaced with the marginally-better US-VISIT, it’s still a target for South Asian, Arab, and Sikh groups, along with the incarceration-focused immigration policies it represents. As DRUM’s executive director Monami Maulik, an outspoken proponent of alliances across communities, told me in an interview this past fall, “Law enforcement in our neighborhoods knows that immigration is how they get us… We’re not special in this. South Asians are just the newest population in the U.S. to face what poor people of color have faced historically.”
With multiracial anti-SB 1070 and pro-DREAM Act sentiment still simmering, and with events in Egypt and elsewhere still very much involving Muslims, a high-profile call to repeal NSEERS seems like an easy get for organizers and U.S. presidents alike. And while Obama’s never been a fan of looking back, Adam points out that he’s less afraid of being seen as soft on Islam. Repeal of NSEERS isn’t immigration reform by a longshot, but it’s a feasible, convenient step.