From calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States to proposing a possible Muslim registry, President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear that he is not shy about the prospect of discriminating against people because of their religious background. He made his way into the White House by fueling xenophobia, sexism, and hate — especially against Muslims and other people of color — and Trump’s rise threatens to normalize such overt racism and discrimination.
I can tell you from experience that discriminating against people because of their religious background can destroy their lives. As a Mandaean who was born and raised in Baghdad, I have faced my fair share of religious discrimination, and I have witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of divisive and sectarian policies. Three and a half years after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, I was forced to flee my home and everything I knew because of religious persecution.
Ten years later, I am now a permanent resident in the United States who couldn’t be happier or more proud to be here. But hearing President-elect Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims in the U.S. reminds me so much of that same rhetoric that forced me to flee Iraq. It is frightening to see that anti-Muslim hate crimes are spiking in number, and Trump’s rhetoric is energizing racist and anti-Muslim hate groups across the nation.
At the top of the list of concerning statements is the fact that the incoming Trump administration is considering a Muslim registry.
A member of Trump’s transition team, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, appears to be encouraging the president-elect to reactivate the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a failed “national security” program that Kobach designed and was implemented by the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. NSEERS forced approximately 100,000 individuals from 25 countries to register and led to the deportation of 14,000 people. Nobody under NSEERS was charged with any terrorist activities.
Beyond the fact that NSEERS was a failure, rekindling the idea of any sort of registry targeting Muslims goes against our values and the Constitution, and is a truly horrific idea.
First of all, it’s unconstitutional. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all people, regardless of their religion or lack of religion, are equally protected and welcomed in our civic life. Second, it could harm U.S. relations with predominantly Muslim countries. Finally, a registry would strengthen the messaging of terrorist groups, such as ISIS, that the United States is against Islam and Muslims. That is the message that Trump and his team risk sending to the world, and we should not encourage it.
The idea that a Muslim registry is being discussed as a real possibility is a repugnant threat to our most cherished values. A surrogate for President-elect Trump, Carl Higbie, recently went so far as to cite Japanese-American internment camps as a precedent. Even the hint that that kind of terror could be repeated must be immediately condemned in the strongest possible terms.
Recently over 500 elected officials from across the country came together and signed onto a letter to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry. All of us have to be ready to join this fight, because a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” must mean all the people, regardless of race, gender, or religion.
I have experienced firsthand what can happen when people are targeted based on their religion. As a country, we need to wake up and stand up against policies that seek to divide us.
TAIF JANY is the policy coordinator for Young Elected Officials Network Action at People for the American Way.