Hyattsville Should Protect Muslims

[Slightly edited version published in the January 2017 Hyattsville Life & Times.]

[The differing statistics used in the piece below and in the one here speak to the difficulty of knowing the full extent of the very secretive NSEERS system.]

Many groups are working to fight the incoming Trump administration, including some of us here in Hyattsville.

Ward 3 councilmember Patrick Paschall will introduce a bill this month to make Hyattsville a sanctuary city – a place where the police don’t ask about immigration status and where the city won’t assist the federal government in the deportation of undocumented immigrants. These proposals are critical in our new political climate.

I hope, however, the city council would support an additional statement in this bill: that Hyattsville welcomes Muslims and will not aid in the (re)creation of a Muslim/Arab registry.

One of Donald Trump’s most terrifying plans is to revive just such a registry. While the details aren’t clear, it would certainly include some subset of Muslims and Arabs registering their names, addresses, workplaces, and activities with the federal government so they can be surveilled for anything that might be construed as “terrorism.”

Unfortunately, this idea is hardly new. George W. Bush created such a registry after September 11th: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). From 2002-2011, over 100,000 Muslim and Arab teen boys and men had to register their whereabouts with the federal government. They had their photos taken; they were fingerprinted and interrogated. Included in those registering were non-citizen high school and college students, tourists, and non-citizens with jobs here.

While NSEERS was in effect, 14,000 Muslim and Arab men and boys were deported. Many of those who registered were held in captivity in the US for months, often with no outside contact. Families were torn apart. Communities were irreparably changed. And yet no registered individual was ever found guilty of terrorism.

Unfortunately, both NSEERS and Trump’s blatant Islamophobia have created an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes, incidents that have recently included tearing off women’s hijabs and threatening letters sent to mosques and Islamic centers. Slightly over one-quarter of the anti-Muslim incidents reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center in November and December were perpetrated by those who made a specific reference to Trump, and many others were undoubtedly also motivated by his Islamophobic rhetoric.

As an agnostic, white, queer, US citizen, i don’t want to see this horrific practice revived. So i would love Hyattsville to be on record opposing a Muslim/Arab registry, supporting our Muslim and Arab neighbors, and saying that we will do nothing to aid the federal government in its profiling of Muslims and Arabs – or Latino/as or any other group.

When the President-Elect takes office, we must respond strongly whenever he mentions such a registry. It is only through the consistent, uncompromising action of individuals over the next 4-8 years that the great abuses he promises will be beaten back. One of those actions can be the passage of Paschall’s amended bill.

Regardless of your religious faith, a registry of Muslims and Arabs has no place in the US. I hope that the residents of our wonderful city will agree and support the council in passing this important bill.

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