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  • Article: Immigration Policy Fifteen Years After 9/11 by American Immigration Council

    Immigration Policy Fifteen Years After 9/11

    by


    Fifteen years ago on September 11, 2001, it appeared that comprehensive immigration reform was imminent. The prior week, President Vicente Fox of Mexico visited the U.S. and spoke to President Bush and Congress about the need for reform, and serious momentum was growing. However, the tragic events on September 11 set the immigration debate back significantly and in the post-9/11 world, immigration policy has become defined by “securitization.” That is, once it became apparent that the attacks were carried out by foreigners, pressure mounted for the adoption of new immigration restrictions in the name of security and any talk of other reforms was dead.

    Many changes have been made to the immigration system in the last fifteen years and while many were intended to target terrorism, these policies have had a significant impact on all immigrant communities. Some of the most notable include:

    • The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program, which was most immediately implemented and required select male noncitizens from countries with a “significant terrorist presence” to be fingerprinted and photographed. Despite the fact that NSEERS officially ended in 2011, the rhetoric of “extreme vetting” has reemerged, and the legal authority to resume special registration remains on the books.
    • Refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing terror, have been the focus of post-9/11 security measures. Despite the fact they were already one of the most heavily-vetted immigrant groups, security-related checks of refugees have become even more intense, often delaying the process and often reducing the number of refugees admitted annually to the U.S.
    • States and localities have become more involved in immigration enforcement. Immediately after 9/11, the federal government announced its intention to partner with state and local police and use them as “force multipliers” to identify and deport deportable immigrants through the 287(g) program. State and local governments have further entered the immigration arena with a wide range of laws and policies intended to dissuade immigrants and refugees from settling there, such as Arizona’s SB1070.

    Not all of the post 9/11 response has been negative, however, with some states and localities promoting policies intended to welcome immigrants and integrate them into social, cultural, and economic life in their communities. State level-policy making has recognized that strategies that embrace newcomers rather than ostracize them will be more successful at combating the isolation and resentment that can fuel acts of violence.

    Fifteen years after 9/11, advocates and political leaders must return to a broader approach to reforming our immigration system. Keeping the nation safe will always be an important element of immigration policy, and many steps have been taken to ensure that those entering the U.S. do not do us harm. However, we must look at immigration reform more broadly and create a new system for the twenty-first century that keeps us safe without compromising the ways in which immigration benefits the country economically, culturally, and socially.

    Photo by Ângelo Pereira.

    This post originally appeared on American Immigration Council. © Copyright American Immigration Council. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


    About The Author

    American Immigration Council mission is to shape a rational conversation on immigration and immigrant integration. Through its research and analysis, we provide policymakers, the media, and the general public with accurate information about the role of immigrants and immigration policy on U.S. society. Our reports and materials are widely disseminated and relied upon by press and policy makers. Our staff regularly serves as experts to leaders on Capitol Hill, opinion-makers and the media. Formed in 2003, we are a non-partisan organization that neither supports nor opposes any political party or candidate for office.


    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      Fifteen years ago on September 11, 2001, it appeared that comprehensive immigration reform was imminent.

      I was an immigration counsel on the House Judiciary Committee in the period prior to September 11, and I don't remember any progress being made on comprehensive immigration reform. Maybe you can refresh my memory.

      Many changes have been made to the immigration system in the last fifteen years and while many were intended to target terrorism, these policies have had a significant impact on all immigrant communities. Some of the most notable include:

      Refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing terror, have been the focus of post-9/11 security measures. Despite the fact they were already one of the most heavily-vetted immigrant groups, security-related checks of refugees have become even more intense, often delaying the process and often reducing the number of refugees admitted annually to the U.S.

      The only refugee security clearance I can recall prior to 9/11, was an FBI name check. I had a very ugly confrontation with the head of the FBI name check program. No refugee application had ever been denied on the basis of name check information. Not surprising really. An alien who was known to American authorities wouldn't give his real name, and he certainly wouldn't be carrying documents that identified him. I demanded to know why they were performing such a worthless security check when it caused refugees to remain in dangerous camps for six or more months waiting to be cleared. Anyway, 9/11 changed the situation. The gov't started conducting serious background investigations. But they also were of limited value. There wasn't much information for them to check. As for the current situation, the Director of the FBI and the Secretary of DHS said in then last year or so that they couldn't do a background investigation on Syrian refugees because they had no one in Syria to provide information on them. The Administration responded to the lack of information by extending the time they took for the investigations, and then claimed that they were doing the most thorough background investigations in the history of the refugee program. For some reason, they got away with it. The bottom line is that if our gov't has no information to check, it doesn't matter how much time is spent checking.

      States and localities have become more involved in immigration enforcement. Immediately after 9/11, the federal government announced its intention to partner with state and local police and use them as “force multipliers” to identify and deport deportable immigrants through the 287(g) program. State and local governments have further entered the immigration arena with a wide range of laws and policies intended to dissuade immigrants and refugees from settling there, such as Arizona’s SB1070.

      I was a counsel when the program started. I remember asking the man explaining the program to a room full of congressional staffers if they had officers to pick up aliens across the entire 50 states if the program was successful. Of course they didn't. He ignored my question. ICE only has 8,400 officers for interior enforcement now. If the program were to be reinstated and every state and local police jurisdiction signed up for it, ICE would only be able to pick up a small portion of the aliens. This is a good example of Republican immigration thinking. They pass unfunded mandates and think they have solved a problem. The republicans aren't willing to fund serious enforcement measures. If I had been President Obama's advisor when he took office, I would have recommended figuring out how much a large-scale nationwide enforcement effort would cost, including the additional ICE officers and other DHS personnel, additional detention centers, additional immigration judges, additional Board of Immigration Appeals members, and so on; and asked for it in his first budget proposal. The figure would have been staggering and the republicans would have been speechless. When they failed to provide the funds, he could have said, "Then don't bother me about the way I use the pitiful amount of money you have provided for enforcement."

      Fifteen years after 9/11, advocates and political leaders must return to a broader approach to reforming our immigration system. Keeping the nation safe will always be an important element of immigration policy, and many steps have been taken to ensure that those entering the U.S. do not do us harm. However, we must look at immigration reform more broadly and create a new system for the twenty-first century that keeps us safe without compromising the ways in which immigration benefits the country economically, culturally, and socially.

      But it isn't just about being safe from terrorism. The immigration laws have to be enforced and the border secured to keep out drug traffickers, human slave dealers, violent street gangs, contagious diseases, and so on. I think we will be able to get a deal with the republicans on comprehensive immigration reform when the democrats are willing to go along with serious interior enforcement and border security. And as I have pointed out, not much will change if we agree to the enforcement measures the republicans will want. They aren't going to fund them.

      Nolan Rappaport
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