To the Editor:
I am an immigration attorney. I began my career in immigration law as a paralegal in January 2001. My law firm specialized in immigrant experts – physicians, engineers, researchers, educators – and I had eight months before 9/11 to learn the ropes. After 9/11, I saw my Muslim clients targeted under a system called The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
Here are some memories of NSEERS: I prepared a massive box of papers for an Iranian Business Professor with a complex immigration case and waited anxiously to hear news of his registration. Fortunately, all went well. For another client, also a professor, the government arrested him temporarily because he commented on the fact that no one seemed to know what they were doing and they took offense.
Mainly, I remember a married Saudi pediatrician couple on their way out of the United States for vacation, detained on exit during their NSEERS interview for no apparent reason whatsoever. Bewildered, they said, “All we do is serve the American people, working in a poor, rural area treating children.” And the border officer screamed at my clients. “You don’t serve the American people. I serve them!” It was shocking. It was frightening.
It was also unnecessary. NSEERS was poorly implemented, confusing to both government officials and to the Muslims caught in its net. Some 93,000 interviews and nine years after its implementation, not one potential terrorist was identified. Instead, we ran a wasteful and confusing program that brought great stress and inconvenience to a community that was largely here in full compliance with the immigration (and all) laws of this country.
Today, my clients are still mainly experts. They’re curing cancer. They’re renowned singers and artists. They conduct complicated robotic surgical procedures and open heart surgery on newborns. They’re entrepreneurs creating jobs for Americans. They’re from all over the world, many of them from Muslim nations, practicing their professions and their faith with dignity and dedication.
I strongly oppose any efforts by the new administration to revive NSEERS. It didn’t work. It cost a ton. And above all, it targeted communities that deserve to be treated better.