[As published in the Washington Blade on January 6, 2017]
[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.]
We sit on the precipice of a Donald Trump presidency. In the run-up to the election and the long weeks afterwards, the president-elect has made too many frightening proposals to list.
One of the most terrifying is his plan to revive a Muslim/Arab registry. While the details aren’t clear (something that’s true of many of his proposals), we can be certain that it would include some subset of Muslims and Arabs – perhaps all of them – registering their names, addresses, workplaces, activities, and/or places of worship with the federal government so they can be surveilled for anything that might be vaguely construed as “terrorism.”
Unfortunately, this idea is hardly new. George W. Bush created such a registry after Sept. 11: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). From 2002-2011, 83,000 Muslim and Arab teen boys and men had to register their whereabouts and activities 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, 13,000 Muslim and Arab men and boys were deported. Many of those who registered were held in captivity in the U.S. for months, often with no outside contact. Families were torn apart, communities were irreparably changed, and the fear for many was palpable. And yet not one man or boy who registered was ever found guilty of terrorism.
Fortunately, President Obama dismantled NSEERS in December. So Trump will have to go through the regulatory process of having the registry reinstated before it could become active.
Unfortunately, irreparable damage has already been done. Both NSEERS and Trump’s blatant Islamophobia have led to an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes. For instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center received reports of 112 anti-Muslim attacks from Nov. 9 to Dec. 12, just outpacing the number of reported anti-LGBT incidents (109) in the same period. In one month, that’s over one-third of the total number of incidents reported to the FBI in the entirety of 2015.
These anti-Muslim incidents have included tearing off women’s hijabs, burning or defacing mosques, and threatening letters sent to Islamic centers. Slightly over one-quarter of the anti-Muslim incidents reported to the SPLC were perpetrated by individuals or groups who made a specific reference to Trump, and many others were undoubtedly also motivated by his Islamophobic rhetoric.
So why should LGBTQ people care? Several reasons.
If you’re a decent human being, the blatant, systemic profiling of any group of individuals should give you pause, especially if that profiling has significant, negative impacts on the targeted group.
LGBTQ Muslims and Arabs would be doubly impacted. Not only will they be put under surveillance for their faith and/or nationality, but they would be forced into contact with a system that is notoriously homophobic and transphobic. LGBTQ individuals caught up in the criminal injustice system often suffer greater abuse and trauma than their straight/cisgender peers. Do we want to put Muslims and Arabs who are members of our family at that risk? And how would a registry of men and boys impact folks who are trans or non-binary?
LGBTQ Muslims will have to face not only homophobia and transphobia among certain Muslim leaders (as well as from our culture at large) but increased Islamophobia outside of their faith.
LGBTQ people who aren’t Muslim or Arab know what it’s like to be marginalized and oppressed. But i doubt that most of us have any idea what having to register with and be watched by the federal government feels like. If the thought of having that additional burden strikes fear in your heart, imagine how it must make LGBTQ Muslims and Arabs feel.
As an agnostic, white queer who is a U.S. citizen, I do not want to see this horrific practice revived under a Trump administration.
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 four-eight years that the great abuses he promises will be beaten back.
Regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity or religious faith, a registry of Muslims and Arabs has no place in the U.S. Will you join me in that fight?