Nationwide SB 1070 for Muslims: On the Books Since 2002

Like Arizona's infamous Latino-targeting SB 1070, NSEERS is less a law than a reason to make arrests.

By Channing Kennedy Jan 31, 2011

Crossposted from the American Prospect.

Earlier today at the American Prospect, Matt Duss makes the argument for viewing political Islam rationally, pointing out that, despite what we’re told, Islamism does not equal our enemy:

Given the amount of right-wing energy being spent scaring Americans about extremist Muslims under their beds and "creeping Sharia" phantoms in their closets, such a shift in posture toward engaging with Islamists is far easier talked about than implemented. But this is a policy fight that the administration must take on. Casting "Islamism" writ large as inherently violent and irretrievably hostile to democracy is not only incorrect; it’s also strategically short-sighted.

Matt’s specifically endorsing reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; however, it’s unlikely that they’ll take our hand unless we unclench our fist. And few of our leftover War On Terror domestic policies are as explicitly anti-Muslim as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System — NSEERS, or Special Registration, now entering its ninth year on the books.

Established a year after 9/11, NSEERS required non-citizen males over the age of 16 from Muslim-majority nations, including Egypt and Tunisia, to register at INS offices. As an anti-terrorism measure, it was laughably similar to the old gag of mailing outstanding warrants a notice that they’d won a new speedboat, to be redeemed at the police station (except without even the speedboat!). Numbers are hard to come by on how many terrorist plots were voluntarily foiled.

NSEERS’ less explicit goal, however, was achieved in spades; undocumented immigrants went in hoping for a path to citizenship, and they didn’t come out. Combined factors of misinformation, language access issues, and simple civic responsibility meant that 14000 of the 83000 men who complied with the law were arrested, held in ICE detention centers, and eventually deported. The effect on immigrant communities of color in New York City was deleterious; community organizations like DRUM scrambled to provide support for the thousands of families facing the emotional and financial loss of a father, son, or husband.

Like Arizona’s infamous Latino-targeting SB 1070, NSEERS is less a law than a reason to make arrests. And while NSEERS lost most of its teeth when it was replaced with the marginally-better US-VISIT, it’s still a target for South Asian, Arab, and Sikh groups, along with the incarceration-focused immigration policies it represents. As DRUM’s executive director Monami Maulik, an outspoken proponent of alliances across communities, told me in an interview this past fall, "Law enforcement in our neighborhoods knows that immigration is how they get us… We’re not special in this. South Asians are just the newest population in the U.S. to face what poor people of color have faced historically."

With multiracial anti-SB 1070 and pro-DREAM Act sentiment still simmering, and with events in Egypt and elsewhere still very much involving Muslims, a high-profile call to repeal NSEERS seems like an easy get for organizers and U.S. presidents alike. And while Obama’s never been a fan of looking back, Adam points out that he’s less afraid of being seen as soft on Islam. Repeal of NSEERS isn’t immigration reform by a longshot, but it’s a feasible, convenient step.