Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for border and transportation security, said the department would focus more on individuals instead of "broad categories" of people. He said the program that required the foreigners to re-register after 30 days or a year continuously in the United States could be used again if there was another terrorist attack linked to a foreign country.
Hutchinson said the decision to "terminate" the program, which administration officials had hinted at last week, was not influenced by the harsh criticism by advocacy groups for people targeted and civil rights organizations.
The National Security Entry Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, required men and boys from 25 countries to be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed at U.S. immigration offices. A total 83,519 people complied and some were deported, usually for overstaying visas.
The program, which ends Tuesday, was targeted at men and boys from countries in the Middle East and other areas with an active al-Qaida presence. It was intended to help assure the government that no known terrorists were in this country.
But the program, begun by the Justice Department, prompted angry protests, with critics saying it unfairly targeted innocent people. Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the change moves the nation to "a much fairer and more effective system of immigration." But "there's still going to be serious residual problems associated with NSEERS for those who were covered by it related to how they relate to their government," he said.
The government is expected to start a new program, known as US-VISIT, Jan. 5 that will digitally photograph and fingerprint millions of people who visit the United States each year on tourist, business and student visas. Also, in August the Homeland Security Department began operating a system to keep track of foreign students, ensuring they remain in school and are registered at legitimate institutions.
The people who were required to register under NSEERS while in the United States still will be required to register each time they enter the country and to check in as they exit.