During a conversation with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, the spokesman for the Great America PAC, a pro-President-elect Donald Trump organization, cited Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans as a precedent for a possible registry of Muslim immigrants.
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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told Reuters that Trump’s policy advisors discussed the ongoing George W. Bush-era “national registry” of immigrants from “terror-prone” countries where the majority of the population is Muslim. But while defending the idea on Fox News, Higbie failed to discuss the registry in detail. Instead, the Great America PAC spokesperson argued that in spite of that criticism, the registry is constitutional.
“I know the ACLU is gonna challenge it,” Higbie told Kelly, “but I think it’ll pass, and we’ve done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with [the] Japanese.”
“Come on. You’re not—you’re not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope.”
Despite her pushback, Higbie continued:
“[T]he president needs to protect America first, and if that means having people that are not protected under our constitution have some sort of registry so we can understand, until we can identify the true threat and where it’s coming from, I support it.”
Regardless of the public outrage his comments sparked, this particular registry has already been used in the past. In fact, an even more intrusive version of it is currently in use by President Obama.
During the George W. Bush era, Kobach helped design the system while working for Bush’s Department of Justice. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) had two components: domestic registration and port-of-entry, which requires individuals to register upon entry to the country.
The system targets non-citizens, and while religious-specific portions of the NSEERS were suspended in 2011 (after being implemented following the 9/11 attacks), the program was essentially replaced by the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) in 2003.
US-VISIT is a management system that collects and analyzes biometric data from immigrants. Once collected, the data is checked against a database of individuals deemed dangerous, which may include terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants.
The US-VISIT program, which replaced NSEERS until it was fully suspended, was the official data collection program targeting immigrants until it was effectively re-approved by President Barack Obama in 2013. At that point, it became the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM). But ever since the inception of the program in the early Bush years, the “registry” has never been considerably reformed.
While President-elect Trump campaigned on the idea of embracing Kobach’s approach to religion-specific immigration, few were able to recognize that under President Obama, the same essential system was still in use.
As explained by Vox’s Dara Lind, Obama’s OBIM differs little from the original Bush-era registry.
“Theoretically, the NSEERS program was supposed to be expanded to visa holders from all countries,” Lind wrote, which allowed the Obama administration to claim the registry wasn’t discriminatory. But instead of expanding the program alone, “the Obama administration removed all 25 countries [Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kuwait] from the ‘special registration’ list” in 2011. Despite the “end” of special registration, Lind adds, the “government didn’t end special registration itself; it just didn’t apply to any particular countries anymore.”
While the Trump administration may not end up adopting the original approach of reinstating a Muslim-specific policy, such a decision won’t matter if programs like OBIM are still in place.
And while Trump’s surrogate was caught defending a historically Democratic policy on Fox News in the name of “security” — and subsequently causing backlash — it’s hard to ignore the fact most mainstream media outlets choose to ignore the fact Obama still collects data from visitors to check against a criminal database, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist.
Why is this story only now relevant if Obama’s refusal to put an end to the unconstitutional collection of personal data barely made the news?
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