It was the fall of 2002, and despite the murmurs of discontent from the few that knew about it (ACLU and a few left wing bloggers), the Government was quietly implementing what it called Special Registration.
Unknown to most Americans, any non-citizen Muslim males aged 18 to 45 from a select short list of countries were required to report post-haste to the nearest FBI headquarters to be fingerprinted, photographed and ‘interviewed’. Furthermore, I had to report back to the Federal authorities once a year, and I could only leave the U.S. from a select group of airports making sure to let them know well in advance that I was in fact, planning to go to Cancun for Spring Break.
The entire registration episode and its antics aside, I was amused to find the chagrin and sympathy of so many the more public these proceedings became. In WWII, the Japanese had been hauled off to internment camps. Quite simply put, males of my color and background had attacked the U.S. with a level of violence and spectacle unparalleled since Pearl Harbor and the government was reacting the best way a government can react – ham-handed but well-meaning.
The Special Registration program registered 82,851 people, deporting about 13,000 of them, mostly on frivolous and trivial grounds of visa overstays and parking tickets. Hundreds, including myself, were detained for inordinate amounts of time without any explanation or access to lawyers or phones. It was a failure, as it only stuck around for a year and a half before the government abolished it in part because it was getting overwhelmed, and in part because it discovered more subtle, effective ways to keep a watch on us (that includes you, my non-brown, non-Muslim friends!).
For a short while after 9/11, the population felt safe knowing we had a list of potential bad guys, and the government felt like it was doing something to keep us safe.