The U.S. Government’s announcement Sunday that it would impose stricter airport security on citizens of 14 “nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest” probably wasn’t intended as an homage to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
But strident critics of Ashcroft and even some of his associates said the Obama Administration’s move bore strong parallells to the “special registration” or NSEERS (“National Security Entry-Exit Registration System”) program President George W. Bush’s first attorney general ordered beginning in 2002 which required male nationals of what eventually became 25 countries who were working, visiting or living in the U.S. to report to immigration authorities for fingerprinting and interviews. Critics of the program said it failed to nabbed any terrorists, while about 14,000 of the men were put into deportation proceedings.
Critics contend that the focus on national origin in both programs is simply a proxy for religion. In the Ashcroft immigration program, 24 of the 25 countries were predominantly Muslim. (The exception was North Korea.) In the new airline security program, 13 of the 14 affected countries are largely Muslim. (The exception is Cuba.)
“There are a lot of eerie similarities,” said Nawar Shora of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “This takes millions of people and frankly labels them for the general public…You’re telling broader society it’s okay to treat them different because they are different. Because we have one 23-year-old Nigerian do something very dangerous and stupid, one hundred million nigerians are going to be labeled?”
“There are some similarities,” said Michael Sullivan, who took over as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts days after 9/11 . “I think the president is doing the right thing by tightening security requirements coming from certain countries where you have your potential greatest risk. It only makes sense from a law enforcement, national security perspective that you focus in on where the greatest risk potentially is coming from….Attorney General [Ashcroft] was trying to do the exact same thing in a climate of great risk of further terrorist attacks.”