The Left is girding for a major fight to stop President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan to create a Muslim registry, despite the fact that there is no plan to do so.
Many liberals are convinced of Trump’s intent because of comments he made on the campaign trail last year. Trump rekindled concern again Wednesday when he failed to reject the premise of a reporter’s question.
But as recently as last month, Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller denied any plans to require Muslims to register with the federal government, a scheme that many experts believe would not survive a legal challenge.
“President-elect Trump has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion, and to imply otherwise is completely false,” Miller said in a statement in November.
An online advocacy group that claims 38 million members, Care2, launched a petition drive last week demanding that technology companies refuse to help the Trump administration build a database. A California legislator also has sponsored a bill in the state senate that would bar state and local officials from providing information about people’s religion to the federal government. And “Star Trek” actor George Takei has said the idea reminds him of the internment camp where he and his family were forced to live during World War II.
Facebook, Lyft and Medium officials responded that they would not be a part of making a Muslim list
“We need tech companies to be allies against fascism, not enablers,” said petition author Julie Mastrine, Care2’s activism marketing and social media manager. “I’m thrilled that after my Care2 petition gathered nearly 20,000 signatures, Facebook finally stood up and committed to protecting human rights. Other tech companies need to show they have integrity and do the same.”
Critics ‘Fundamentally Dishonest’
Kyle Shideler, director of threat information at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, said the outrage directed at a Muslim registry amounts to a giant straw man.
“It’s being fundamentally dishonest about what is actually being proposed,” he said.
Trump came closest to endorsing a registry in response to a reporter’s question in November 2015.
“There should be a lot of systems, beyond database, we should have a lot of systems, and today you can do it,” Trump told an NBC News reporter after a rally in Iowa.
Asked about the logistics, Trump said it comes down to “good management.”
But a day later, Trump denied in a tweet that a Muslim registry was his intent: “I didn’t suggest a database — a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America.”
The following month, in response to a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Trump called for a temporary ban of Muslims entering the United States. The campaign later clarified Trump would pursue a pause on all immigration from war-torn Muslim nations until vetting measures could be fully reviewed.
At other times during the campaign, Trump did not directly answer questions about a Muslim registry, speaking instead about the need to be “vigilant” against domestic terrorism.
Trump’s Latest Comments
Trump’s latest comments occurred Wednesday during a brief exchange with reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. A reporter asked about this week’s terrorist attack in Germany.
“Has it caused you to rethink or re-evaluate your plans to create a Muslim registry or ban Muslim immigration in the United States?” the reporter asked.
Trump’s response: “Hey, you know my plans, all along it’s — I’ve been proven to be right — 100 percent correct. What’s happening is disgraceful.”
The response triggered a new round of media reports that Trump wan endorsing a Muslim registry. But the plans Trump referred to — at the ones on paper and laid out in speeches in recent months — call for “extreme vetting” and a suspension of immigration based on geography, not religion. Trump would target countries with high levels of terrorism against the United States or Europe.
Yasmina Dardari, a spokesman for a media relations firm that helped Care2 spread the word about its campaign, said the organization hoped to head off the idea before it takes hold.
“The goal of the petition is to have these tech companies pledge preemptively to refuse to provide technical assistance,” she said.
Another possibility — floated by Trump adviser Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state — would be to revive a program requiring certain foreigners granted visas to come to the United States to check in periodically with federal officials. The so-called National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, created in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, required men older than 16 from 25 countries to report immigration authorities while in the United States. Men and women from those countries also had to report before entering or leaving the nation.
The monitoring portion of the program lasted only a year and three months. The entry-exit requirements ended when the Obama administration in 2011 delisted all of the countries designated as terror risks.
“But it’s not anything like a Muslim ban,” said Shideler, of the Center for Security Policy. “It’s kind of a conflation of these two issues.”
More than 200 organizations last month sent a letter to Obama urging him to kill the regulatory structure of the program, which they argued is “counter to the fundamental American values of fairness and equal protection.”
Chris Chmielewski, director of content and advocacy for NumbersUSA, said his group takes no position on whether people in the United States on visas should be required to report to the government during their stay.
“We would much rather see full implementation of the biometric entry-exit system, which would apply to everyone who comes into the country,” he said.
That system, which has been trial-tested but never implemented, would require foreigners to be photographed and fingerprinted when they enter and leave the country. That information, along with other details on their visa, would be stored in a computer that would generate a report when a foreigner failed to leave by the time the visa expired.
Currently, the U.S. government has no systematic way to track and find foreigners who overstay visas.