President-elect Donald Trump’s administration isn’t ready to scrap the idea of maintaining a database of Muslims within the United States and those entering the country, according to sources close to the team.
Many have likened Trump's campaign promise targetting Muslims to the registries used to facilitate the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust or worried that such lists could lead to a resurrection of World War II internment camps the US created to hold Japanese Americans. These critiques have prompted Trump to recast some of his promises.
"Look I'm not going to rule out anything," Reince Priebus told Meet the Press Sunday morning. "We're not going to have a registry based on a religion. But what I think what we're trying to do is say that there are some people, certainly not all people ... there are some people that are radicalized. And there are some people that have to be prevented from coming into this country.”
Trump has floated policies ranging from temporary bans on all Muslims entering the country to what he called “extreme vetting,” citing the perceived danger that refugees from war-torn areas like Syria could pose to national security. Human rights activists and various legal groups have warned that the program could clash with constitutional protections, but others, fueled by the fear of radicalization and terror from groups like ISIS, have thrown their support behind such measures, deeming them necessary to protect American citizens.
While he didn’t detail the latest version of Trump’s plan, Mr. Priebus stressed that the president-elect might not pursue the extreme measures that his rhetoric on the campaign trail promised, and could more closely mirror ideas espoused by sitting members of Congress.
“And Donald Trump's position, President Trump's position is consistent with bills in the House and the Senate that say the following: If you want to come from a place or an area around the world that harbors and trains terrorists, we have to temporarily suspend that operation until a better vetting system is put in place,” he said.
Many in Congress have decried any plan to bar immigrants based on their religion and denounced any database system. Still, Trump's ambiguous ideas have rocked Muslim communities across the nation, leading many to feel ostracized in their hometowns and fearful of either deportation or violence on part of their neighbors after Trump’s unexpected win on Nov. 8.
"Half of America voted one way and half of America voted the other, and you're like, 'Which half am I looking at?'" Alia Ali, who works as a secretary at a New York City public school, told the Associated Press after the election. "You become almost like strangers to the people you've worked with. Is this person racist? Do they like me? Do they not like me? Because that's what this election has done."
Sources close to the president-elect’s administration gave CNN a clearer preview of what Trump’s actual plan might entail last week.
Currently, the administration’s plan calls for a registration system that mirrors the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a Bush-era program that subjected Muslims and Arabs who weren’t citizens to fingerprinting, photo taking, and interrogations. These people, along with others already in the US, were required to register and regularly check in with immigration officials. Authorities then tracked those who left the nation in an attempt to ensure no temporary residents or visitors overstayed their permission to be in the country.
The program led to the registration and monitoring of more than 80,000 boys and men over the age of 16 who came from 25 countries where terrorist organizations played prominent roles, such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. Deemed a “discriminatory profiling of individuals from countries with predominantly Muslim populations … based on the false assumption that people of a particular religion or nationality have a greater propensity for committing terrorism-related crimes,” according to a 2012 Pennsylvania State University Dickinson Law School report on the initiative, the program faced legal challenges and sharp criticism from activists.
After nearly a decade on the books, the program resulted in penalties, fines, and deportations that split families, but not a single terrorism-related conviction, according to CNN.
While the program was never outlawed as a legal violation, it’s hasn’t been used since President Obama removed all 25 countries from the list in 2011, bringing an end to the monitoring efforts. Still, that move didn’t eradicate its structure, making it unaffected by any legal challenges. That means that Trump’s team could choose to put countries back on the list, resurrecting a program that was previously deemed a failed experiment.
But many stress that the system’s controversies and lack of success could push officials to leave it behind.
"If you do not reverse course and instead endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at every step," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero wrote in a statement the day after the election.
While Trump has brought prominent GOP officials into his administration who have expressed concerns with Muslims as a group, such as National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon, Priebus said Sunday that the administration doesn’t intend to roll out a sweeping program that will impact all Muslims.
"He believes that no faith in and of itself should be judged as a whole," Priebus said. "But there are some people in countries abroad that need to be prevented.... there are some people that need to be prevented from coming into this country. So I think that's where 99 percent of Americans are at."