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US politician introduces legislation against Muslim registry

Trump and his advisers have been considering reinstating a post-9/11 programme to register Muslim immigrants
'This kind of xenophobic and hateful rhetoric has no place in our government,' Congresswoman Suzan DelBene said (AFP)

Amid fears that a Donald Trump administration may bring in a special registry for Muslim immigrants, a Democratic congresswoman has introduced a bill that would ensure a blanket protection for all faiths from such discriminatory measures.

Suzan DelBene, who represents a district in the northwestern state of Washington, told the Middle East Eye that her office had received many calls expressing concerns about Trump's "xenophobic statements and proposals."

"The suggestion of a religious registry is reminiscent of dark times in U.S. history that should not be repeated. We cannot allow our country to disregard the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution," she said via email.

Trump met on Monday with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of his advisers who has been pushing for a special database for immigrants from Muslim countries.

In a photo before, the meeting showed Kobach holding a document as he posed with Trump. The paper showed national security plans, including re-activating a post-9/11 controversial registry.

Kobach served in President George W Bush's Justice Department after 11 September 2011 and was one of the architects of NSEERS, an initiative that required immigrants and residents from countries considered "high risk" to register and report regularly to the authorities.

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was criticised by civil rights groups and was fully abandoned in 2011. But Kobach, who helped draft anti-immigration bills in several states, told Reuters last week that Trump is mulling reinstating the registry.

Concerns about abuses against grew when a Trump supporter cited the internment of Japanese Americans as a precedent for a Muslim registry.

"We've done it with Iran back awhile ago. We did it during World War II with the Japanese," Carl Higbie, a spokesman for a pro-Trump political action committee, said in an interview with Fox News on 17 November.

"... Civil rights should not be a partisan issue, and it is my hope that my colleagues across the aisle will join me in defending the values we share as Americans" - Congresswoman DelBene

Higbie's comments were widely condemned, including by Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who told him: "You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is going to do."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which fought NSEERS in the 2000s, denounced Trump’s campaign threat to reignite the “illegal” and “long-ago abandoned” programme.

"Let’s be clear: Trump is talking about a federal dragnet that targets people for registration, surveillance, interrogation, or detention because of their religion. Such a dragnet would be unconstitutional," the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project director Cecillia Wang said in a statement.

Now Congresswoman DelBene wants to pass a preemptive law to prevent the federal government from classifying Americans based on their religion.

"This kind of xenophobic and hateful rhetoric has no place in our government," DelBene said in a statement on Monday.

"We cannot allow our country to disregard the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution. My bill would prohibit the administration from violating the constitutional rights of Americans because everyone should be treated equally under our laws."

Orchideh Raisdanai, an activist from the state of Washington, praised DelBene's bill, saying that it provides a sense of hope.

But Raisdanai is not optimistic about the future because Republicans, who she said, supported Trump's "personal biases against Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, Hispanics, LGBT, the disabled, women and captured veterans" are the majority in Congress.

Raisdanai said it is "terrifying" to know that the president-elect would institutionalise religious discrimination.

"The United States was founded on religious freedoms and equality," she told MEE. "Narrowly interpreting what that means or selectively applying these principles undermine the definition of being American."

People of all faith, not just Muslims, are worried about the freedom of religion that may be under threat, Raisdanai added.

"History has shown a very slippery slope of what it means to discriminate or single people out based on their religion, race or orientation with devastating outcomes," she said. "I personally fear the unwarranted hatred and injustice."

Congresswoman DelBene emphasised the role of Congress in countering Trump's policies that may threaten religious and ethnic minorities. She called for "performing rigorous oversight" of the administration's proposals.

"Sometimes, with enough pressure, we can influence decisions even if Democrats don’t control either chamber of Congress," she told MEE. "But civil rights should not be a partisan issue, and it is my hope that my colleagues across the aisle will join me in defending the values we share as Americans."

On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also pledged that the city will sue Trump if he goes through with the Muslim registry plans. 

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