During the recent presidential campaign, there was talk of establishing a Muslim Registry as an anti-terrorism tool. Some may be surprised to learn that’s already been tried.
On September 10, 2002, the Bush Administration implemented the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), also known as INS Special Registration, to register non-citizens like students, workers, and tourists who were in the United States. The program had three parts. First, non-citizens were required to register when they entered the US, including fingerprinting, photo-taking and being interrogated. Second, these people had to regularly contact immigration officials. Third, the system tracked those leaving the country to make sure no one stayed illegally.
This all sounds reasonable, especially after 9/11. The key was all males age 16 or older from only specific countries were required to register, and all but one of these countries (North Korea being the exception) were predominately Muslim. So while not strictly based on religion, as a practical matter that was the result.
So how effective was NSEERS? While in operation, it didn’t result in any terror-related convictions. Some said it made the job of finding terrorists more difficult by alienating the people whose cooperation we needed, and there was a realization that most terrorist acts were being committed by US citizens anyway.
Portions were suspended as of April 27, 2011 — The Department of Homeland Security said that new technology had obsoleted the system — and the program was ended on December 22, 2016. So if President Trump wants a registration system, he’ll have to start over.