This system had two parts to it. The first was a port-of-entry registration system for those non-citizens entering the country and the second was a domestic registration for those who were already here. In each case, those who registered were fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed. They were required to provide detailed information about their plans and to update Immigration and Customs Enforcement if their plans changed. They were only permitted to enter and depart the U.S. through designated ports of entry.
The Bush administration started the program in September 2002. A goal of the program was to increase screening of travelers from specific countries. Because a majority of these countries were predominantly Muslim cultures, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the Bush administration of using the program to unjustly target individuals based on their religion. This was denied by the government. In January 2003, Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, said NSEERS helped law enforcement authorities apprehend 330 "known criminals" and 3 "known terrorists”. The Bush administration was requesting Congress to provide $16.8 million per fiscal year for the program. The program remained in effect until 2011, but as of December of 2016, critics of the program claim the no known terrorism convictions have resulted from the program.
By January 2003, at least 138,000 individuals were registered in NSEERS, according to the Department of Homeland Security to Congress, and by May, 2003, 82,581 individuals had complied with the domestic portion of the program. Of these, at least 13,153 were placed in deportation proceedings. At first the program required subjects to re-register annually, but the Department of Homeland Security later eliminated this requirement.
Critics of the program called it profiling on the basis of ethnicity and religion, noting that 24 of the 25 countries included on the list were predominantly Muslim nations. The ACLU complained that the program was ineffective. They claim that it producing no terrorism-related convictions in the 93,000 cases it created. They said that it was unlikely to locate any members of Al Qaeda.
The system was discontinued in 2011 under the Obama administration. The Department of Homeland Security said that the registration system had become outdated because of new technology. It was indefinitely suspended as of April 27, 2011, when the US-VISIT program was instituted as its replacement. The NSEERS regulations remain in place in the event a special registration program is required in future.
On November 22, 2016 the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, supported by nearly 200 organizations, wrote to President Barack Obama, calling on his administration to rescind the regulatory framework behind NSEERS. The 200 organizations were groups active in civil and human rights, civil liberties, education, social justice, and inter-faith organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil Human Rights, American Immigration Council, Center for American Progress, National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The letter called for removal of the NSEERS framework and asked that "the Administration to immediately take steps to remove the regulatory structure of NSEERS and stop any future use of the program." The registration system was ordered to be removed near the end of the President Obama's second term 2016.
Port-of-entry registration was required for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria (including those that were born in these countries but have a passport from a different country). Non-citizens who were in the United States on or prior to September 10, 2002, were required to register in person at an INS office. This procedure was required of males over the age of sixteen who entered the United States legally on particular types of visa (primarily student, work, and tourist) from certain countries. Countries included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kuwait.