Sunday, September 11, 2011

Collateral Damage of September 11: The Decade-Long-Plus Delay of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

It is September 11 and we have been deluged with news stories, blog postings, television specials, and the like looking back on what happened on this fateful day 10 years ago. We hear stories of great courage as well as irretrievable -- and heart-breaking -- loss. We are told repeatedly how that day changed "eveything" in America.

I do not want to rain on anyone's parade and I want to pay homage to the heroes and the victims. However, I fear that we may lose sight of the fact that many of the responses of this nation to the tragfic day have had deleterious impacts on immigration and civil rights in the United States. On Friday, we blogged about Leslie Berestein Rojas's outline of some of the negative immigration policies that Septembrer 11 wrought. My concerns go somewhat deeper, as I feel that September 11 has delayed comprehensive immigration reform for at least a decade -- and that this loss that impacts millions of lives deserves to be recognized.

As I have written elsewhere, we should all be familiar with how the U.S. government's security measures since September 11 understandably have injured Arab and Muslim noncitizens, the primary targets of many of the government's actions (such as "Special Registration," selective deportations, and the mass arrests and detention in the months following September 11). Moreover, as with past efforts to crack down on "terrorism," the new security measures adversely affected the Mexican immigrant community, the largest immigrant group in the United States, as well as many Mexican-American citizens. These injuries include

(1) mass deportations of Mexican immigrants, who abnnually comprise roughly 70 percent of those deported;

(2) immigration reforms in the USA PATRIOT Act and the REAL ID Act that greatly expand the grounds for which immigrants can be deported;

(3) increased racial profiling in law enforcement;

(4) the imposition of citizenship requirements for certain jobs;

(5) greater local police involvement in immigration enforcement; and

(6) the delay of comprehensive immigration reform for at least a decade.

This last point deserves some elaboration. Bernie Trujillo and I have written how national security concerns have come to dominate - inappropriately in our view - the much-needed debate over comprehensive immigration reform. The security concerns that animated the conduct of the U.S. government after the horrible events of September 11, 2001, later distorted the debate over reform of the immigration laws.

When it comes to immigration reform, the myopic fixation with security and the so-called "war on terror," has made it next to impossible for law- and policy-makers to see the forest through the trees. This is most unfortunate because meaningful reform of the U.S. immigration laws is long overdue.

How did this happen, one might wonder? In the years after September 11, the U.S. government engaged in scatter-shot attempts at improving national security by tightening the immigration laws and increasing border enforcement. Besides being overbroad, under-inclusive, and, in many instances, grossly unfair, the measures appear to have done little to truly improve the security of the United States but have done much to alienate the very communities whose help is desperately needed to effectively protect national security in modern times.

Even today, the "war on terror" distorts the national debate over immigration reform. Security concerns have made it nearly impossible to have a rational discussion of changes to immigration law and policy necessary to fulfill important economic, political, and social goals of the United States. In no small part due to the "close the borders" mentality fostered by September 11th, border enforcement has increasingly been the only item of consensus in Congress when it comes to immigration reform. However, the United States requires more realistic laws that better comport with the economic, political and social realities of modern immigration. A truly multifaceted and comprehensive approach to immigration reform is needed to bring the nation's immigration laws in line with its various needs in the twenty-first century.


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