In late 2002, the Department of Justice‘s Immigration and Naturalization Service (now known as Department of Homeland Security-DHS and its component agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement-ICE) launched a campaign known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) with Special Call-In Registration phases.
The program was initially portrayed as an anti-terrorism measure which required male visitors to the US (from 25 Arab and Muslim countries, and North Korea) to be fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned by immigration officers. At the time, INS officials told ADC during a meeting, that they themselves were ill prepared to carry out this special call in registration and acknowledged numerous shortcomings. However, there were and still are criminal and civil penalties associated with failure to comply with NSEERS, including arrest, detention, monetary fines and/or removal from the United States.
The program was rolled out in separate phases and male visitors were asked to voluntarily comply with the program. Failure to adequately publicize the program and to train immigration officers sufficiently led to poor implementation of NSEERS. Thousands of men who were required to register failed to do so many, no doubt, due to lack of notice, and are now vulnerable to NSEERS penalties. Reports indicate that hundreds of individuals who had voluntarily appeared to register at INS offices around the country (but primarily in California) were arrested and detained without reasonable justification. According to news reports, many of those detained had applications pending for adjustment of status on which the INS had not yet acted.
ADC has noted that 84,000 Arabs and Muslims registered voluntarily and subsequently 14,000 of them were deported for voluntarily complying with the program. Yet, none, not one, of these registrants has been charged with terrorism. In December 2004, the NSEERS program was modified by the Department of Homeland Security, but many elements remain and are subject to abuse including: departure registration; registration at ports of entry; as well as the potential for the re-initiation of the call-in phase. It seems clear that NSEERS has become just another tool used in immigration enforcement and law enforcement in general, which raises serious constitutional issues as the program clearly discriminates on the basis of national origin.
Since the inception of the program ADC, several members of Congress, and numerous civil libertarians, have taken issues with the constitutional legality of NSEERS discrimination based on national origin. We urge you to contact public officials, including media outlets, and ask that the NSEERS program be terminated entirely. In fact, then DHS Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson said, at the 2004 ADC Convention, “it is our hope to completely end this special registration program because of our long term goal is to treat everybody the same way and not based upon where you came from.”