WTH is NSEERS and why are people talking about it?

NSEERS was used post-9/11 to track male visitors from certain countries – mainly in the Middle East.
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If you've hopped on Twitter today, you might have seen #NSEERS trending.

So what is it? In short, it's a program the federal government had in place that required visitors from certain countries to register as being in the U.S. The program was ended, but there were questions from rights advocates about whether it could be used to create a Muslim registry under Donald Trump – but less so now, after a decision from President Barack Obama today.

Here's a look at what NSEERS did, the concerns, and what Obama opted to do.

What is NSEERS?

NSEERS stands for National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (and we're going to refer to it here as NSEERS, because the full name is way too long). It was also called "special registration" sometimes.

NSEERS was started in 2002 by the George W. Bush administration as part of the War on Terror. It required men age 16 and older from 25 countries – almost all in the Middle East – to register with U.S. immigration services. If they were staying longer than a year, they had to re-notify the federal office.

Immigration Impact says those people were photographed, fingerprinted, and questioned.

What happened to it?

Groups like the ACLU and the United Nations' racial equality committee express concern throughout the life of the program, saying it was essentially in place to track Muslims.

While it was pitched as a way to prevent terrorism, a 2012 Penn State report found of the 80,000 people who were registered as part oft he program, there's no evidence the registry ever helped convict anyone for terror-related crimes.

In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was removing all of the countries off the NSEERS list – effectively stopping the program from existing. They said better technology that covers everything they need automatically was a part of the decision, as well as the input from advocacy groups.

So why the worry now?

While the department took those countries off the list, the framework for the program still existed. It's like removing all the light bulbs from a house, but leaving the wiring – sure there's no light, but somebody can always come along and screw in a light bulb.

So when there was talk from President-elect Donald Trump (and later his incoming White House staff) about the creation of a Muslim registry, there were questions about how that might happen.

CNN just reported a source within the Trump administration said a registry for people from high-risk countries was on the table (though they've publicly denied anything would target Muslims). And there was speculation shortly after his win the Trump White House could use the still-existing NSEERS framework to do it.

As The Atlantic put it: "America already had a Muslim registry."

And what happened Thursday?

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it's straight up getting rid of all those regulations, and called the NSEERS program "obsolete."

The move is seen by a lot of people as Obama – with just weeks left in office – making a move to prevent the incoming Trump team from using a criticized program. Here's the New York Times and the Guardian with more on that view.

The ACLU is one of the civil rights groups applauding the move.

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