Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus refused on Sunday to dismiss the possibility of establishing a registry of Muslims visiting and immigrating to the United States.
“Look, I wouldn’t rule out anything, but we’re not going to have a registry based on a religion,” Priebus, the present chair of the Republican National Committee told Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What I think we’re trying to do is say that they’re some people, certainly not all people, Chuck, they’re some people that are radicalized, and there are some people who have to be prevented from coming into this country.”
Trump first invoked the idea of a Muslim registry after last year’s Paris attacks carried out by Islamic extremists. At the time, he demanded a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country” in order to prevent terror activity. He also said that he would force American Muslims to register with the government.
Trump and surrogates eventually retreated from their position on American Muslims — which according to most experts would be unconstitutional. But the candidate and his aides continued to surface the idea of registering Muslim visitors and immigrants, something that could be within the power of the president.
The issue roared back into public view last week, when it was rumored the president-elect might give an administration appointment to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a hardliner on immigration who designed a similar program while at the George W. Bush Justice Department.
Called the Secure Entry-Exit Registration System, it subjected visitors and immigrants from a number of countries — all of them Muslim-majority, except North Korea — to regular check-ins with the federal government. The program came under fierce attack, and the Obama administration discontinued it in 2011.
Because of Jewish history — specifically the forced registration of Jews in Nazi Germany — much of the community has reacted with shock to this news.
Many, including Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League and Forward contributor Benjamin Gladstone, have said that Jews should register as Muslims if a registry for American Muslims comes to pass. (Once again, Trump’s advisers have denied this is on the table.)
In an op-ed for the Forward, Mira Sucharov said that Jews should wear yarmulkes in public as an expression of solidarity. Progressive Jewish organizations like Bend the Arc have circulated petitions calling for support for the beleaguered Muslim community, while the American Jewish Committee has started a joint advisory panel on bigotry with the Islamic Society of North America.
Asked if the president-elect believed that Muslims were a problem as a whole, Priebus responded in ambiguous terms. “[Trump] believes that no faith in and of itself should be judged as a whole, but there are some people that need to be prevented from coming into this country,” he said.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.