*The most recent development from President-elect Trump’s advisors is to propose registration for Muslim immigrants.
Future immigration advisor Kris Kobach has come out in favor of reinstating registration for immigrants from Muslim countries. Such a policy contains multiple aspects that are troubling.
First there is the problem that such a policy has a dubious record of success. This policy was instituted after 9/11 in a climate of Islamophobia. And while thousands of people were flagged as troublesome, there were no people convicted of terrorism as a result of the program. If stopping people from harming the country was the goal, there is nothing to suggest this program helped.
By going down that road again the country would again target Muslims as a group warranting special focus from law enforcement. The program codifies national, racial, and religious profiling because it targeted Muslims from specific countries, and of specific ethnicities. This is fundamentally against the principles of this country that all people are deserving of a civil liberties and civil rights. I generally don’t like to use the term civil rights because I consider them citizenship privileges. But in the case of immigrants who are not yet citizens, but still should be afforded the opportunity to proceed unfettered in American society, civil rights are exactly what they need. In a country that was founded on the pursuit of happiness it is non-sensical that the government would impede that pursuit for some residents.
At the same time Carl Higbie, a spokesperson for a pro-Trump political action committee, suggested that registering Muslims for special treatment was permissible because of the Japanese internment that occurred during World War II. This angle on protecting the country is again questionable. While the idea was to prevent Japanese Americans from sabotaging the war effort, the idea that those American citizens were planning to harm the country is belied by the fact that many of them volunteered for the armed forces and served with merit during the war.
Furthermore if Higbie believes that registering Muslims immigrants is a good idea because the order for Japanese internment was upheld by the Supreme Court, then I would counter with the fact that subsequent Supreme Court justices have said that the decision was wrong. In addition there are the public apologies and multiple reparation payment bills that have been signed into law. Clearly our elected officials (up until Trump apparently/potentially) don’t believe internment was a good idea. So I’m not sure why someone would use that as support for any potential policy.
More generally, this potential policy illustrates the push and pull of civil rights in the United States. The ultimate question is to what extent the government should contradict the principles of liberty in the pursuit of protecting liberty. It is an unanswerable question because the line is blurry and moving. That is, it is difficult to know when we’ve crossed it and what is crossing it changes over time. But what is unmistakable is that up until Trump began running for President with endorsements from blatant white supremacist groups, the country had seemed to move away from the kind of racism that dominated the first 200 years.
Is this the new normal for our country?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.