US abolishes registry that tracked mostly Muslim immigrants

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems program, known as NSEERS, was suspended in 2011. On Thursday, the White House announced it will dismantle the program. 

Gary Cameron/Reuters/File
Members of Join MoveOn and DRUM march past the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 12 during a protest to shut down the existing Muslim registry program NSEERS.

The US Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday it is canceling an inactive registry program for visitors from countries where extremist groups are operating, a plan similar to a Muslim registry considered by President-elect Donald Trump.

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systems program, known as NSEERS, was suspended in 2011, DHS spokesman Neema Hakim said in a statement.

He said the program was determined to be redundant and inefficient and did not provide increased security.

"The intervening years have shown that NSEERS is not only obsolete but that its use would divert limited personnel and resources from more effective measures," Hakim said.

The department is formally ending the program by removing outdated regulations in a rule change, he said.

The rule was scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Friday and will be effective immediately, a DHS official said.

Trump was asked on Wednesday whether he would support a Muslim registry, similar to the dormant DHS program, and he would not confirm or deny his plans to do so.

Several Trump transition aides have told Reuters the incoming Trump administration will not resurrect the program, although a key Trump immigration adviser, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has advocated the idea, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last month.

Secretary Kobach said he has been working with about a dozen immigration policy advisers and that they have discussed implementing the registry as an executive order – a move that would be controversial, even if constitutional. The proposal is a shift away from Trump's stance during the primary campaign, when he called for a ban on all immigration from Muslim countries, at least temporarily.

The announcement comes as a growing number of prominent tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, Apple have told various news organizations that they would not help the Trump administration build a Muslim registry.

Earlier this month, employees at various technology companies also signed an online pledge vowing not to help Trump build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations. The petition has been signed by more than 2,500 employees.

The Obama administration's decision to formally end the program drew praise from critics who said it was discriminatory.

"I applaud President Obama for his decision to dismantle NSEERS, the idle and ineffective federal registry that targeted Muslims and undermined our core values," New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee welcomed the decision to ends NSEERS, which it called a "failed program rooted in discriminatory profiling."

At one point in his campaign, Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country as a means of fighting terrorism. That drew widespread criticism at home and abroad and Trump revised his proposal to suspending immigration from regions deemed as exporting terrorism and where safe vetting could not be assured.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Dustin Volz and Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Bill Trott)

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