No Muslim registry, but vetting likely

US President-elect Donald Trump's spokesman has denied that his new administration will institute a "registry" for Muslim visitors and immigrants, but said some form of the "extreme vetting" called for by Mr Trump in his campaign remains on the cards.

"President-elect Trump has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion, and to imply otherwise is completely false,"  Mr Jason Miller said in a statement.

"The national registry of foreign visitors from countries with high terrorism activity that was in place during the Bush and Obama administrations gave intelligence and law enforcement communities additional tools to keep our country safe, but the President-elect plans on releasing his own vetting policies after he is sworn in."

The statement came as controversy swirled over remarks made by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to Reuters last week.

 He helped design a National Security Entry-Exit Registration System while working at the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush, after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed 2,753 people.

Under that programme, people from countries deemed high risk had to undergo interrogations and finger-printing on entering the US. Almost all the countries singled out were Islamic or Arabic. The programme, criticised by civil rights groups, was abandoned in 2011.

Mr Kobach said an immigration policy group could recommend its reinstatement. And Mr Carl Higbie, a former spokesman for a political action committee that had backed Mr Trump, told Fox News the US needed to "keep tabs on" Muslims aligned with "extreme ideology".

"There is historical, factual precedent to do things that are not politically popular and sometimes not right in the interest of national security," he said. "We've done it with Iran back a while ago. We did it during World War II with the Japanese."

The remarks triggered a furore.

Mr Robert McCaw of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the US' largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, called the reference "absolutely deplorable".

Democratic congressman Mark Takano, whose parents and grandparents were interned, said the comments reflected "an alarming resurgence of racism and xenophobia in our political discourse".

Last Thursday, Mr Higbie tried to walk back the remark on CNN, saying the Japanese internment camps were "a huge black mark on our society, and we would never want to do it again". But he insisted that scrutinising, registering and even banning immigrants "from certain places" were "all in the best interest to protect America".

Nirmal Ghosh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'No Muslim registry, but vetting likely'. Print Edition | Subscribe