The Atlantic

America Already Had a Muslim Registry

A program that targeted visitors from Muslim-majority countries was phased out in 2011—but unless it’s dismantled completely, Donald Trump could easily reinstate it.
Source: Larry French / Getty for

Toward the end of 2002, nearly two years after arriving in the U.S. with a student visa, Ammar Khawam took a day off from classes to visit Des Moines. It was about a two-hour drive from the University of Iowa, where he was working toward a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences. He made his way to the local immigration office, located in a glass-encased federal building downtown.

Khawam spent the rest of the day in the building. Immigration officials asked him questions, took his photo, and fingerprinted him. In between interviews, he sat silently, surrounded by others in the waiting room. No one was allowed to use their phones.

It was Khawam’s first brush with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS. The system was implemented, symbolically, on September 11, 2002, under the Department of Justice, but it was soon transferred to the brand-new Department of Homeland Security. It consisted of two “special registration” programs: one that required foreign nationals from certain countries to check in with the government before entering and leaving the country, and another that obliged some foreigners living in the United States to report regularly to immigration officials.

When it was announced, the program applied to non-citizen, non-resident visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. Eventually, the list of

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