United Press International reports today that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will stop all special security checks imposed in November 2002 on adult males entering the United States from the 25 countries considered a special risk for terrorism. Asa Hutchinson of the Department of Homeland Security announced to an Arab audience on June 11, "Our long term goal is to treat [all visitors] the same way, and not based on where you come from."
By way of background, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), described as a "system designed to protect U.S. citizens from terrorism," requires male visa-holders to undergo special screening, including being fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed at ports of entry. Other than North Korea (clearly thrown in as eye-wash; how many North Koreans have you met wondering the streets of America?), all the nationalities have majority-Muslim populations.
I understand and commend the DHS concern for fair play. But I have two questions for Asa Hutchinson: Can you seriously assure me that homeland security is maintained by this step? And what will you say should a terrorist get through who otherwise, through fingerprinting, photographing, and interviewing, would have been stopped from entering the country? When political correctness trumps security, the results cannot be good. (June 13, 2004)
July 16, 2004 update: The sheriff's office in Orange County, Florida had printed 5,000 training brochures outlining the Citizen Awareness Program, which trains persons who enter private homes as part of their jobs to identify signs of terrorism, drug trafficking and child pornography. But the brochures will be shredded, in large part due to criticism from Arab-Americans. That's because the brochure notes that several adult males "usually of Middle Eastern appearance" who live together with little or no furnishings could be a sign of international terrorism.
The brochures will be rewritten and references to specific ethnic groups will be removed. Joyce Dawley, co-chairman of Central Florida's Domestic Security Task Force, which oversees the Citizen Awareness Program, says: "You don't want to focus for a number of reasons on any one group." Law enforcement officials will present a full list of revisions to leaders of Orlando's Arab-American community.
Again, the motives are good ones but clearly the security of central Florida is reduced by this step. Which do the citizens wish for more? To avoid hurting feelings or to do everything to fend off terrorism? It is a choice each of us must decide.