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Like NSEERS, Entry-Exit System Could Pose Major Threat to Immigrants, Civil Liberties

Domenic Powell • Jun 12, 2013

Between now and the July 4 Senate recess, the term “entry-exit system” will be thrown around on the Senate floor more than a few times. The little-fought over component of immigration reform—it being innocuous enough for advocates of reform to ignore, yet sufficiently pervasive to be believed as a national security measure—will slip by without a fight, and without consideration for the impact it could easily have on immigrants, no matter their immigration status.

The immigration reform bill S. 744 demands that an entry-exit system be created before anyone granted Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status can adjust to Legal Permanent Residence. In real terms, that means creating a system in which every single foreign passenger that flies on one of the United States’ 2000 daily international flights will have to submit to getting fingerprinted and any other biometrics the government wants to collect before they can board a plane. More importantly, the government will have to do most of the work themselves: when a pilot program to the entry-exit system was tried in 2009, the airlines refused to participate. Thanks to the entry-exit system, thousands of people will become government employees.

As public policy experts David Schanzer and Joe Ayerman said of the entry-exit system on Huffington Post, “If completion of this system is mandated as a precondition for a pathway for citizenship for undocumented migrants, there will be massive political pressure for the system to be put in place as quickly as possible. Under these conditions, it is likely that the system will be poorly planned, haphazardly constructed, and possibly of little value to our national security.” 

Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas and architect of NSEERS, Arizona’s SB1070, and other anti-immigrant legislation around the country.

It’s not difficult to imagine what a mishandled entry-exit system could look like—we had one for the better part of a decade. The National Security Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS), created by the now-infamous Kris Kobach, required young immigrant men and boys, aged sixteen and older, from 25 countries to be considered terrorist risks. NSEERS became infamous as a form of state-sanctioned racial profiling in the aftermath of September 11, but in the paranoid era, many were quick to sanction the loss of others’ civil liberties to shore up their own false sense of security. Placed in the malevolent and opportunistic hands of an ideologue like Kris Kobach, an entry-exit system is simply another anti-immigrant dragnet like Secure Communities or SB1070.

DHS eventually abandoned NSEERS in 2011 to the applause of civil rights advocates, but it still had long-lasting consequences for the people it ensnared. Those who failed to comply with the program’s poorly communicated rules eventually faced dire consequences in immigration court. The American Immigration Lawyers Association urged DHS to undo as much as it possibly can: “AILA calls upon DHS to implement policies to treat as a favorable factor in discretionary determinations the withdrawal of designation of an individual’s country of citizenship or nationality, including individuals seeking adjustment of status, and to terminate removal proceedings against the victims of the NSEERS mess.”

The rush to establish a system that may not even accomplish its goals may be one of the first fights for civil liberties and immigrant rights advocates after immigration reform passes, assuming nothing is done to soften the demand of establishing an entry-exit system prior to offering legal residence to 11 million previously undocumented immigrants. If a system anything like NSEERS even has a remote chance of coming back to the United States, we should oppose it. 

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