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Muslims don’t need your ‘solidarity’ to face Trump — we need action

Many non-Muslims took to social media declaring themselves Muslims in solidarity against a registry for all Muslims, a welcome and heartfelt act of civil disobedience. However, what was being entertained by the future Trump administration was not a blanket registry — it was a proposal only for Muslim immigrants. Citizens wouldn’t be registered. Whether it will profile based on religion or national origin remains to be seen, but profile it will.

{mosads}But calling it a #MuslimRegistry (ie, for all Muslims) obfuscates what’s actually happening: the reboot of NSEERS. This failed Bush-era program required Muslim male immigrants to register — and 84,000 did. Then 14,000 found themselves in removal proceedings, with nearly 3,000 detained. Number of terror convictions? Zero.


Does this matter? Aren’t we all in a database anyway? Turns out, it does matter. A lot. I can’t overstate this:

Policies intended to thwart terrorism start with an individual’s actions.

Policies intended to be bigoted and xenophobic profile start based on race, religion, or national origin.

Kris Kobach (who appears to be advising the transition team) was one of the original architects of NSEERS. He also authored S.B. 1070, Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law. His M.O. is to figure out ways to criminalize aspects of immigrant life to create more opportunities for interception by police. In other words, he creates “legal land mines” to trigger deportation at the slightest touch.

That’s what NSEERS was. Now he’s creating what could be called “NSEERS+.”

Meanwhile, a man who critics call a white supremacist has been appointed chief of staff.

An avowed Islamophobe is within earshot of the new president.

A senator who just can’t seem to escape allegations of racism has been appointed attorney general.

Right-wing anti-immigrant think tanks like the Center for Immigration Studies have already put together a dystopian list of 79 suddenly constitutional executive actions President Trump can take to remove any semblance of due process for immigrants.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Trump Train. Next stop: Legalized bigotry. The rise of Trumpism should concern every single American.

However bad it might be policy-wise, it’s probably constitutional. It’s hard to get judges to review policies over the admission of foreign nationals. I’ve often written that is the precise reason why, if you’re looking for de jure bigotry, you’ll find it in immigration laws, because courts are reluctant to tell Congress who they can let into the country.

Legalized bigotry will start with immigration laws. And that’s why it should concern us all: we’re all on the Trump Train now.

Besides being an abject failure, NSEERS caused immense grief.

I learned to always request both sides of the paper I-94 cards, because the back was usually where they wrote the FIN (fingerprint identification number) from registrees. FINs were scarlet letters, and I’d be filled with a sense of shame when I would ask my Muslim client, my brother in faith, for his scarlet letter. And the affidavits we’d have to prepare — so many that we had a template — to defeat a finding of “wilful failure to register” which would trigger an automatic denial.

Because it was so hastily put together, no one knew what to expect. Men were told that if they had a pending application for, say, a green card they would not be put into proceedings. They complied, and were detained and deported anyway.

In one case, a client was placed into removal proceedings, triggering a needless nine year battle for a green card. Many others weren’t so lucky.

In another case, USCIS tried to unlawfully expand the NSEERS requirement to a Palestinian by trying to say he was a Jordanian national even though he was officially stateless. (Jordan was on the list; Palestine wasn’t). 


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In two other cases, USCIS tried to make my clients register when they did not meet the age and entry date requirements of NSEERS. I can only imagine how many men without counsel needlessly registered.

This is the brainchild of Kris Kobach & Co. NSEERS was just a start. Empowered by a party that has embraced bigotry as its platform, “NSEERS+” is a horrific prospect.

When the program was suspended in 2011 (absorbed into US-VISIT), cases started to move. Even though Muslims still had to deal with the ugly CARRP program, most cases became easier.

Now all those horrible memories are coming back. Can you imagine if segregated water fountains made a comeback? This roller coaster of rights is a very unwelcome ride. This is what the “Muslim” flavor of exclusion looks like in 2016, but there are other flavors for other groups, too. Kobach & Co. will make sure of that.

I appreciate the gesture of solidarity. But as a Muslim immigration lawyer, I’d rather folks make it clear to their Congressman that a vote for this misguided policy will result in a vote for their opponent in 2018.

Solidarity must be properly channeled, or else there’s a real risk this failed program will reboot right under our noses.

A vote against “NSEERS+” is a vote for due process of law, and the American ideal that we don’t discriminate against people — even when the law allows us to.

Ahmad is an immigration lawyer in Northern Virginia. He tweets at @HMAesq

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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