Obama Eliminates Post-9/11 Registry for Foreigners

WASHINGTON (Tribune Washington Bureau/TNS) -
President Barack Obama speaks in the briefing room of the White House last week. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The Obama administration is taking apart a controversial, dormant national registry program that tracked visitors from countries with active terrorist groups for several years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A final rule eliminating the program will be published in the federal register on Friday.

The move would make it more difficult for President-elect Donald Trump to revive the registry, which hasn’t been used since 2011. The Department of Homeland Security determined it was ineffective and didn’t improve security. Civil rights advocates have long said the program was discriminatory.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to track Muslims coming to the U.S. and require them to register. He later changed his stance to say he would bar people from countries with a record of Islamist extremism.

Trump’s policy advisers have been looking closely at ways to jump start the registry, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, after he takes office at the end of January.

With the program being officially dismantled on Friday, Trump’s team would have to issue new federal rules to restart it, a process that could take several months and would require a period for soliciting comments from the public, which likely would be contentious.

The Trump transition team is preparing several executive actions for the incoming president, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters Thursday morning when asked about President Barack Obama dismantling the registry.

Stopping “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the U.S. is of “paramount importance,” Miller said. He didn’t say directly if Trump would rebuild the visitor registry.

“The American people strongly support tough measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country, and President-elect Trump has made clear that we will suspend admissions of those from countries with high terrorism rates and apply a strict vetting procedure for those seeking entry in order to protect American lives,” he said.

When asked on Wednesday if he would set up a registry for Muslims or impose a ban on Muslim immigrants in the wake of the truck attack on a market in Berlin, Trump said simply: “You know my plans.”

Democratic lawmakers and civil-liberties advocates have demanded in recent weeks that Obama dismantle the registry. They’ve cited a 2012 inspector general report that said Homeland Security databases collecting traveler fingerprints, flight manifests and intelligence information on foreigners are more effective at preventing terrorist attacks.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised the Homeland Security Department’s decision to strip away “dead-letter regulations” no longer in use.

“These regulations symbolized an ineffective program based on religious and ethnic profiling, rather than individualized suspicion — a program based on fear, rather than reason,” Leahy said in a statement. “That has no place in this great country, under any administration.”