DHS nixes obsolete, controversial foreign visitor registration program

Citing redundancies with automated systems, the Homeland Security Department has canceled a system for manually collecting detailed information about visitors from specific countries, according to a Federal Register notice (PDF) April 28.

DHS ended the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) because the department "has determined that recapturing [visitors'] data manually when a nonimmigrant is seeking admission to the United States is redundant and no longer provides any increase in security," according to the Federal Register notice signed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system and Customs and Border Protection's Advance Passenger Information System are two of the automated information collection systems that render NSEERS obsolete, the notice states.

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That's good news for residents of 25 countries, all from Asia or Africa and nearly all of which are considered Muslim countries, who were required to comply with strict guidelines before traveling to or from the United States.

The Justice Department launched NSEERS in 2002 as part of the response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. The system required visitors from those countries to meet special requirements, such as providing fingerprints, a photograph and additional personal information, according to the notice. The program also restricted the ports of entry that visitors from those countries could use to enter or exit the United States.

The rules applied to visitors already in the country when Justice announced the program in a Federal Register notice in 2002. According to a column from the Kansas City Star's Mary Sanchez, the government did a poor job of spreading the word about the rules.

"Some people who were legally in the country later fell into trouble, charged with 'willfully' disobeying the order to register," Sanchez writes. "Many simply didn't know they were supposed to register. Later, they'd show up at an immigration office for another paperwork matter and found themselves accused and deportable for not registering."

In its recent Federal Register notice, DHS states that NSEERS is no longer necessary because the department "has refined its approach to identifying aliens posing a threat to the nation. As threats to the United States evolve, DHS seeks to identify specific individuals and actions that pose specific threats, rather than focusing on more general designations of groups or individuals, such as country of origin."

That point made NSEERS a target for civil rights activists during the past nine years. In a May 6 blog post, the American Civil Liberties Union's Chris Rickerd celebrated the demise of NSEERS, pointing out that the government failed to convict anyone who was subject to the registration requirements.

Here are the 25 countries that NSEERS affected:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Algeria
  3. Bahrain
  4. Bangladesh
  5. Egypt
  6. Eritrea
  7. Indonesia
  8. Iran
  9. Iraq
  10. Jordan
  11. Kuwait
  12. Lebanon
  13. Libya
  14. Morocco
  15. North Korea
  16. Oman
  17. Pakistan
  18. Qatar
  19. Saudi Arabia
  20. Somalia
  21. Sudan
  22. Syria
  23. Tunisia
  24. United Arab Emirates
  25. Yemen

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