The Obama administration has moved to shut down the Department of Homeland Security’s Muslim national registry program, a vestige of post-9/11 policy that’s been sitting on the books since 2002 but unused in the past five years. It’s the same program that President-elect Donald Trump and his team have indicated they’d like to revive.
The action, taken Thursday, follows Trump’s comments in response to the Monday attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, which the Islamic State group claimed to have inspired. Asked whether he still planned to impose a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants entering the United States and establish a registry for Muslims (as he said on the campaign trail), Trump replied, “You know my plans.”
Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, framed the decision as house-cleaning, stating it was simply “removing outdated regulations relating to an obsolete special registration program for certain nonimmigrants,” and that the department had stopped using it “after finding that the program was redundant” with other automated systems.
The New York Times described the move by the Obama administration as “largely symbolic” and an apparent attempt to distance “the departing administration from any effort by the new president to revive the program.”
The registry, known as the National Security Entry Exit Registration System, was set up after the Sept. 11 attacks, and operated from 2002 until 2011. The Department of Homeland Security ultimately dissolved the program amid complaints that its activities amounted to racial profiling and that it was ineffective.
Trump surrogate and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, while serving under President George W. Bush, was the architect of the program. In addition to requiring domestic registration, which ended in 2003, nationals from 25 countries, all majority-Muslim except North Korea, entering the U.S. were fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed under the program.