Now his team seems to be following his lead in terms of floating ideas that are designed to sound good to his supporters rather than accomplish anything. But, instead of new bad ideas, Trump’s people have recently been talking about resurrecting, or using as precedent, two old policies that have already been tried and abandoned as failures and worse.
On November 21st Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach met with Trump and an AP photographer was able to snap a picture of Kobach’s plan for the first year, should he be given the job of head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The first problem with this is that a person who can’t even secure the confidential documents he had in his own hand should not be in charge of securing the homeland. And, more importantly, one of the bullets points of his plan was to reinstate the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
NSEERS began in 2002 under President Bush and required immigrants who were from a list of 25 countries that had been deemed “high risk“ to complete special registration with INS and report their movements in the U.S. The countries were 24 nations in the Middle East and North Korea. NSEERS ceased in 2011 when all the countries were removed from the list. Since the program itself was never actually terminated, it would be easy for Trump’s people to simply add Syria and other countries back onto the list once he is in office and start it up again. This would seem to be a legal and relatively easy way for Trump to honor his campaign promises about “extreme vetting” for Muslims, but there are a lot of problems with restarting NSEERS.
First of all, the program applies to all people from countries on the list; it would make life more difficult for Christian refugees coming from Syria as well as Muslim refugees. Furthermore, when NSEERS was active, it failed to actually catch any terrorists. Almost 100,000 immigrants were screened and none of them ended up being convicted of terrorism. Finally, according to DHS, the program was ended because new systems made “entry of this data via the NSEERS registration process redundant, inefficient and unnecessary.” Getting a government department to admit that a program is inefficient and unnecessary and then actually cut the program seems like a rare win. It would be unfortunate if DHS is made to re-fund and re-introduce this program just so Trump can create the illusion that he is honoring an ill-conceived and racist campaign promise.
The other thing that’s recently been brought up as a precedent which could be used to justify discriminating against Muslims is the incarceration of Japanese American citizens during WWII. In an interview earlier this month, Trump surrogate Carl Higbie said that a registry for citizens from Muslim countries would “hold constitutional Muster” because “We did it in World War II with Japanese.” The racist incarceration of U.S. citizens in camps in California and Hawaii is a chapter of U.S. history that is largely ignored when discussing WWII and is a sad and shameful part of our history, not something we should be seeking to emulate now.
It’s also worth noting that in Hawaii only a few hundred Japanese Americans were confined in the Honouliuli internment camp and martial law was used as the legal excuse. This was a small select group of the Japanese Americans in the state and was in contrast to the hundreds of thousands who were imprisoned in camps on the U.S. mainland under executive order 9066. The difference was not because authorities in Hawaii were better at identifying potentially-dangerous Japanese Americans. It was because in Hawaii, Japanese Americans did, and do, make up a significant portion of the population and were economically essential to the state. If the U.S. government truly believed that these citizens were enemies, then it seems that the decision would have been made to incarcerate them no matter the economic consequences. The fact that this was not done seems to indicate that the powers that be knew, even then, that this was a pointless exercise driven more by racially-motivated fears than any effort to keep people safe.
The fact that Trump’s people are citing these types of policies tells a lot about the mindset of the people he is surrounding himself with and the likely direction of his administration. This is not about functional immigration reform or truly making the U.S. safer, this is about creating the appearance that Trump’s administration is working to make America safer. This is security theater on a grand, and grandly expensive, scale.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.