How a Broad Coalition Pushed for the Regulatory End of the Muslim Registry We Already Had

On Thursday the Obama administration announced the elimination of the regulatory underpinning of a post-September-11 national registry program for “certain nonimmigrants.” Although the program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), had not been active since 2011, many worried that it could have been rebooted under a Trump administration as Trump’s promised Muslim registry, and the announcement followed a targeted campaign around the issue by a coalition of groups, including MoveOn.

“This is a win,” MoveOn campaign director Iram Ali said Thursday. “I can’t even remember the last time Muslim communities have had a win so, it’s a huge deal.”

Ali said that in late fall, MoveOn and other organizations were looking to more productively channel the solidarity being shown by non-Muslims pledging on social media to register as a Muslim in any future registry. Ali said that organizers didn’t want people taking such an if-it-happens-it-happens stance, or waiting until there actually was a Muslim registry before resisting.

“While the sentiment behind the pledge (to register) is appreciated and welcomed, the unintended effect may be to legitimize the concept of registering Americans of a particular faith,” Tabassum Haleem, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year.

At RootsCamp in November, a grassroots group of South Asian organizers called DRUM pitched the idea of campaigning against the Muslim registry that already existed—NSEERS. DRUM partnered with MoveOn on a petition signed by more than 136,000 people. Other organizations, including CREDO, ACLU, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, and MomsRising created their own petitions, and last week members of the coalition marched to the White House to deliver the petitions and over 341,000 signatures.

“We ended up getting a meeting with the White House to deliver the signatures,” Ali said. “The White House doesn’t always accept petition signatures—there are so many petitions out there—so we were really grateful that they were willing to meet and accept our delivery.”

Ali said one of the “key strengths” of the campaign was the cross-sectional coalition that supported the issue, with grassroots groups like DRUM, net roots groups like CREDO, legal advocacy groups like ACLU, as well as Arab and Muslim groups.

MoveOn is also among the organizations that have signed on to the petition asking technology companies to refuse to work with Donald Trump on building a Muslim registry or something similar. Although many companies have made statements to that effect in the past week there is still more organizing to be done on the issue and Ali called it the “perfect next step.”

Going forward, Ali says that the important thing is to “continue resisting and building these coalitions.”

“We’ve been working in silos, for the most part, for the past decade, and going forward I think one concrete thing we can do is to continue to expand on the coalition we’ve already built of organizations that worked toward this victory and continue to bring in more and more people so we can continue to tackle more issues.”