Skip to main content

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.

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.

Next Up

Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders says Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman hadn't spoken "in months"

Sanders' comments revealed some of the Vikings' issues last season.

police tape, crime scene

Brooklyn Park man pleads guilty in 2020 fatal drive-by shooting

Devon Manley will be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 7.48.35 AM

Man gets 10 years for fatal pawn shop fire during Minneapolis riots

The incident, which took place during riots in May 2020,  resulted in one man's death.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

Election officials dismiss conservative group's complaint against Rep. Ilhan Omar

The group alleged that she used campaign funds on her future husband's consulting firm.

Screen Shot 2022-01-15 at 9.53.04 AM

Reports: 6 names surface in Vikings' search for new head coach

Six names have surfaced Saturday in the Minnesota Vikings' hunt for a new head coach.

Pexels - face mask covid holding

Minnetonka approves mask mandate in emergency ordinance

The mandate officially goes into effect Monday night.

snow, measuring snow, snow totals

Here are the snow totals from Friday's winter storm in Minnesota

There was a sharp gradient around the Twin Cities, with the highest amounts in southwestern Minnesota.

Mats Zuccarello

Zuccarello scores twice, Wild win third straight

A team effort helped Minnesota dispatch the Ducks.

Rep. Tou Xiong

State lawmaker Tou Xiong apologizes after driving under the influence

The state representative was pulled over on the night of Jan. 8.

St Lukes Duluth GSV Pro

Duluth hospital requiring visitors to show vax proof, neg. test

The health care system is also tightening visitor guidelines.

ridgeview urgent care facebook

Ridgeview halting urgent care at a Twin Cities site 'until further notice'

The organization cited "growing emergency medical needs" at the facility.

polley freeborn county jail roster jan 2022 resize

Charges: MN high school counselor sexually assaulted student

The 16-year-old victim had regularly gone to him for academic help and other support, authorities say.


What Minnesota's U.S. lawmakers have said about Trump's immigration order

What Minnesota' U.S. lawmakers have said about Donald Trump's executive order restricting travel and refugees.

President Donald Trump says recent anti-Semitic threats are 'horrible'

Two of Minnesota's Jewish Community Centers have been targeted by bomb threats recently.

Why there's no longer a cross at this MN city's veterans' memorial

An out-of-state group put pressure on city leaders to get rid of the cross.

Fringe MN governor candidate refuses to acknowledge Islam as a faith

"It sends a message to his supporters that Minnesota is only for a certain population, and that excludes Muslims," one woman says.

Cab driver who called Rep. Ilhan Omar 'filthy' and 'ISIS' is punished

Rep. Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the country, was harassed while coming back from the White House.

St. Paul Public Schools says text alert about ICE raids is made up

If you saw a Facebook post saying St. Paul schools were warning families of ICE sweeps, that's false.

Authorities: Mexican national arrested working under someone else's identity in MN

Border officials say the suspect had used someone else's identity to get a job.