DONALD TRUMP swept into the Oval Office vowing to stop the flow of immigrants into the US – mainly Mexicans and Syrian refugees – and keep a close eye on those already living in it — especially Muslims.
The president-elect made it a defining theme of his campaign. Now, thanks to a transition team member we’re getting a sense of what that promise might look like. Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hardliner advising Trump’s transition team, said earlier this week that Trump’s policy advisers were considering instating a Muslim immigrant registry.
The system is modeled after a controversial one implemented in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That program, labeled the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), required those entering the US from a list of certain countries to register when they arrived in the US to undergo more thorough interrogation and be fingerprinted. There were 25 countries on the special registration list. Twenty-four were majority-Muslim countries. The 25th was North Korea. The system was criticized by civil rights groups for targeting a religious group and was phased out in 2011 because it was found to be redundant with other immigration systems.
Under NSEERS, certain foreign citizens and nationals in the US had to come into immigration offices for fingerprinting, photos, and interviews — and then had to check in again at designated intervals.
Over the next decade, more than 80,000 men were put into NSEERS “special registration” database — Muslims and non-Muslims from suspected countries alike. But the fact that the Bush administration was responding to 9/11 by ordering thousands of Muslim men to show up to register with the government was de facto discriminatory.
This long-ago abandoned post-9/11 program may now be resurrected. And the man best suited for the job is Sen. Jeff Sessions who on Friday was given the job of US attorney general. Sessions backed Trump’s proposal early in the campaign to temporarily block all foreign Muslims from entering the US. Sessions, who is staunchly anti-immigration, can be counted on to help institute a ban on Muslim immigration altogether or create the legal perimeters for a federal registry.
As attorney general, Sessions will head the Justice Department and FBI. He would not be able to pass laws, but he would have a lot of power in guiding how the law is interpreted and enforced.
Sessions must first win Senate confirmation. While Democrats can mount a spirited campaign against him for past charges of racism and his hard-right political positions, they lack the votes to block him.
When the American people went to the polls Nov. 8, they were not only electing a president but Cabinet-level appointees as well as 4,000 other federal agency employees who make policy every day.