Civil Libertarian Rand Paul Becomes the Frontman for a Notorious Racial Profiling and Surveillance Program

He wants Muslim foreigners to be required to register with Uncle Sam


Even the most ardent supporters of more open immigration policies would

Ran Paul Caricature
DonkeyHotey / Foter / CC BY

concede that the government has a legitimate interest in keeping out folks who pose a genuine security threat to the country. So Rand Paul's comments yesterday to Breitbart.com in the wake of the tragic Chattanooga shooting that there needs to be "heightened scrutiny" of those entering America are not indefensible. However, what is indefensible is just how blasé Paul is about some of the solutions he is proposing.

He has made opposition to government surveillance his signature issue. Only about a month ago he was spouting sentences like the government should not be "forcing us to choose between our rights and our safety." That "is a false choice and we are better than that as a nation and as a people." So one would have thought that he would not try and do Lindsey Graham's job for him and position himself as the frontman for the notorious National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) that is nothing if not surveillance-on-steroids. Implemented in the wake of 9-11, the program was a naked form of racial profiling that targeted Musims and was finally suspended in 2011. Yet, Paul commented to Breitbart:

I'm going to have our subcommittee and maybe committee in Homeland Security look into whether or not we could reinstitute this NSEERS [National Security Entry Exit Registration System] program.

So what did this program do? It not only singled out Muslims entering the country for extra interrogation at the airport (which is stupid because if they pose a threat then why grant them a visa at all?), it required Muslim foreign boys and men over 16 years already in the country to personally appear before Uncle Sam's functionaries and register. Explains the Migration Policy Institute:

Registration includes a meeting with an immigration official where the interviewees are fingerprinted (both digitally and with ink), photographed, and asked a series of questions under oath. In addition to the initial registration, foreign visitors must also appear at a U.S. immigration office within 10 days of the one-year anniversary date of initial registration. All of these foreign visitors are required to complete a departure check only at a designated departure port (of which there are approximately 100 nationwide) on the same day that they intend to leave the country. Willful refusal to register is a criminal violation; overstaying a visa is a civil violation.

Expecting terrorists to voluntarily stroll to an immigration office to be fingerprinted and IDed is absurd, of course. So the entirely predictable upshot of the program was that although it managed to obtain not a single terrorism-related conviction, it did ruin plenty of lives of peaceful Muslims caught in its dragnet. Consider the case of Abdulameer Yousef Habeeb, a refugee from Iraq. As per the ACLU:

he was lawfully admitted to the United States after suffering imprisonment and torture by Saddam Hussein's regime. Habeeb was on a train from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to start a new life when Border Patrol agents singled him out for questioning without any individualized suspicion. As a refugee, Habeeb was not required to register with NSEERS, but when he showed the border agents his refugee documentation, the agents insisted—incorrectly—that he was in violation of NSEERS' registration requirements. Detained for a week, Habeeb lost his job. Habeeb was terrified of being returned to Iraq, yet the government stubbornly continued deportation proceedings for six weeks. Ultimately, after the ACLU filed suit, Habeeb won an apology from the government stating: "[T]he United States of America acknowledges that, by not registering under NSEERS, you did nothing wrong [and] regrets the mistake."

Paul maintains that immigration is not a right; it's a privilege. But the Constitution guarantees immigrants in the country the same due process and other basic rights as citizens because it understands that a Leviathan that is authorized to abuse the rights of one set of people is not likely to respect those of others for very long. A civil libertarian like Paul, especially one who is trying to strike a concerned pose about the abuse of minority rights, ought to understand this.

But, then, of course, politicians are used to living in a state of cognitive dissonance. Those who think that Paul would be any different might want to think again.