AILA Press Release: Special Registration Changes Do Not Go Far Enough

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Contact:   Julia Hendrix 
(202) 216-2404

December 1, 2003

Special Registration:  Changes Do Not Go Far Enough 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today announced the suspension in the near future of some aspects of what has commonly been called the “Special Registration” program, formally known as the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS).  Under NSEERS, specified groups of foreigners have been required to be photographed, fingerprinted, and interrogated upon their arrival at a U.S. port of entry and, for those already in this country, at a designated immigration office.  Under this program, these individuals (most of them males from Middle Eastern countries) also have been obligated to follow re-registration requirements after one year, or, in some cases, thirty days. 

Under the new guidelines, the one year and thirty day re-registration requirements will be suspended.  However, registration at the border, departure requirements and a “case-by-case” imposition of registration requirements, at DHS’s discretion, continue. 

“While we are pleased that the Department has suspended some aspects of this failed program, the program in its entirety should be terminated.  AILA long has maintained that NSEERS is a false solution to a real problem and does not make us safer. It was deeply flawed when it was implemented and remains flawed today, more than one year after its implementation.  Furthermore, not one individual has been charged with terrorism as a result of this program,” said Jeanne Butterfield, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). 

“The changes DHS announced today demonstrate that the program has been a failure,” said Judith Golub, AILA’s Senior Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs. “We hope that DHS’s actions today reflect their willingness to review other failed measures that the Department of Justice had initiated.  These programs have not made us safer. What have they done? They have left immigrant communities feeling besieged, harmed our relations with foreign governments, and wasted precious resources.  In fact, according to the DHS, the changes announced today will allow the agency to reallocate almost 62,000 work hours.  Just think if they never had implemented this program, what a difference that many work hours could have made to a program that really enhanced our security,” continued Golub. 

While a step in the right direction, these changes do not address the plight of the 13,000 already placed in removal proceedings, those who have been refused admission, and others who have been denied benefits because they did not properly register or because our government did not properly note their registration.  Equally troubling is the confusion these changes will raise, and our government’s continued inadequate outreach to explain new and continuing program requirements. “Already we have been receiving reports from AILA members about DHS officials who themselves do not properly understand how the program has been changed,” said Butterfield.  “If government officials are having trouble understanding these changes, imagine the confusion in communities nationwide as people try to understand their continuing obligations,” added Golub. 

DHS has wrapped NSEERS in the mantel of an entry-exit system mandated by Congress, most recently called the US VISIT program. However, Congress never had the opportunity to review or vote on NSEERS and AILA has criticized US VISIT due to inadequate funding and planning, and implementation deadlines that cannot be effectively achieved.

“We need to learn from our mistakes. Our nation’s experience this past year with Special Registration reinforce the fact that we need to terminate this program in its entirety and focus on what works, and works well, to make us safe,” concluded Butterfield and Golub.

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Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.


American Immigration Lawyers Association
918 F Street NW, Washington, DC, 20004-1400
Phone (202) 216-2400; Fax (202) 783-7853

43pr3014 special registration

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03120142.