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S. 54 (115th): Protect American Families Act


President Trump pledged during his campaign to institute a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration and Syrian refugees “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He made good on much of that promise earlier this week, with an executive order suspending America’s refugee admission program for 120 days and the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, as well as banning all entry from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.

Next up, many critics fear, could be a Trump promise to create a national registry of all Muslims immigrating to the U.S.

Some Democratic senators have introduced a bill to prevent that. TheProtect American Families Act, labeled S. 54 in the Senate, would prevent the federal government from creating any “immigration-related registry programs that classify people based on religion, race, age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, or nationality.” (The text is a mere one page long.)

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill defends American values of pluralism, while contending that Trump’s registry plan or similar plans would not improve national security.

“Forcing people to sign up for a registry based on their religion, race, or national origin does nothing to keep America secure. It does, however, undermine the freedom of religion guaranteed by our Constitution and promote the false notion that people of certain faiths and nationalities are inherently suspect,” lead sponsor Booker said in a statement. “Our legislation would block Donald Trump and subsequent administrations from infringing on religious liberty by creating an immigration-related religious registry.”

Supporters also note that the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), established by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 and the closest predecessor analogue to a “Muslim registry,” failed to obtain a single terrorism conviction. The program required male foreigners age 16 and older to register with U.S. immigration if they were from certain countries, most of which were majority Muslim. In December after the election, President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson — cognizant that this Bush-era program could provide the legal framework for Trump’s Muslim registry — dismantled it.

Who opposes it

Trump has defended a Muslim registry as necessary to national security.

“They have to be [registered]… It’s all about management. Our country has no management,” he said when first proposing the idea in 2015, a week and a half prior to the San Bernardino mass shooting which killed 14 and was carried out by a Muslim American citizen and his U.S. permanent resident wife. Trump reiterated his plans as president-elect in December.

Odds of passage

Introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill has attracted 10 Senate cosponsors: nine Democrats and an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. The legislation has not yet received a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Most Democrat-led bills in this Republican Congress are dead on arrival, especially ones seen as direct responses to Trump administration initiatives. However, Trump’s proposals for Muslim immigration bans and registries were among his campaign pledges receiving the most pushback from Republicans at the time. That includes his future Vice President Mike Pence, who as governor of Indiana in 2015 called a ban “offensive and unconstitutional.” So this legislation could in theory achieve bipartisan support, although that has yet to actually manifest itself through Republican cosponsorship.

Last updated Feb 2, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 5, 2017.


Protect American Families from Unnecessary Registration and Deportation Act of 2017 or the Protect American Families Act

This bill prohibits: (1) the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or any other federal department from creating or implementing a law enforcement or national security program that requires or causes people to register or check in on the basis of religion, race, age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, nationality, or citizenship; and (2) federal funds from being used to create or implement an immigration registry or check-in program.

Such prohibitions shall not apply to any federal program that: (1) merely collects and compiles data about aliens entering or exiting the United States; or (2) issues visas, grants U.S. citizenship, confers an immigration benefit to nationals of a foreign country, or temporarily or permanently protects non-citizens from removal.