I applaud the sentiment, but not the tactic.
First, the most likely way of implementing a so-called “Muslim registry” is to implement it as a condition of entry or visa renewal on certain classes of foreign nationals wishing to enter or remain in the US. We already had such a policy in the Bush years under the name of NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System). Though it was much criticized, non-Muslim US citizens could not, even in principle, apply to register for it. If the Trump version resembles the Bush version (as it probably will), the idea of inducing people to register for Trump’s version probably won’t work: they won’t be able to.
Anyway, even if they could, they wouldn’t. Just try to imagine a mass movement of Americans engaging in civil disobedience to register as Muslims (foreign Muslim nationals from terrorism prone countries!) and you realize that you’re in the realm of science fiction. People who believe that we all went out dancing in the streets of Jersey City after 9/11 are not going to flock to an inconvenient immigration center to declare, implausibly, that they are Muslims–failing the very first question they get in an interrogation on the subject. (Ben Gurion Airport, anyone?) I appreciate the sentiment, but the whole thing is quixotic.
It is nearly impossible to fight a measure that will be applied to foreign nationals at border entry. It is also very difficult to fight a measure that will be applied to foreign nationals already in the country. We’d have to consult immigration lawyers to know how to strategize there. But consider something simpler and clearer. The constitutionality of a registry imposed on US citizens (or legal residents) is both clear and unclear. It is morally clear that such a registry *would* be deemed unconstitutional by a competent court, if someone with standing brought such a case to court. But it is legally clear that Korematsu (justifying internment, and a fortiori registration) has never actually been overturned.
Here is my idea. Why not ask or demand pre-emptively that law enforcement take a position as to the constitutionality of a registry? Law enforcement officers are required to take an oath to the Constitution. They are loyal to its principles, not to the person who happens to be president, or to his administration. If so, they should–in advance of any executive order from the president–be able to declare, out loud (meaning: in a binding way, for public consumption), what they think about Korematsu or any policy resembling a registry or pre-emptive detention. And by “law enforcement,” I mean not just police depts (though I mean that), but county prosecutors in every county in every state, etc. If they declare this, then, if an order to registry or detain came down, they would be in the position of rejecting it on grounds of constitutionality. They cannot obey or enforce an unconstitutional order.
In a way, all of this is a declaration of the obvious that doesn’t really touch the nature of the border or visa policy that is imminently about to come into existence. Unfortunately, I am not sure what we can do about that (or whether anything can be done). That said, a policy of the sort I’m recommending would set a healthy precedent. A declaration of the obvious is actually something we desperately need at this point. The obviousness of what we’re demanding is a point in its favor: who could object to it, unless they had genuinely malign intentions? And citizen cooperation with law enforcement is also something we need. I’ve seen some pretty idiotic suggestions out there (granted, not here) to the effect that we *start* our resistance to the Trump Administration with violence and disruption.
No. We need both solidarity and symbolic gestures, but we need it to take the right form and come from the right place. My suggestion: a binding declaration by law enforcement not to enforce an unconstitutional registry or detention of citizens and legal residents. Let’s get that first, and take things from there.