Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001: 12 Years After


This is September 11 and a time for remembrance.  As many commentators have said for years, “September 11 changed everything.” It unquestionably is the case that September 11 dramatically affected U.S. immigration law and its enforcement over the last decade. From the USA PATRIOT ACT to increased border enforcement to delays in congressional enactment of comprehensive immigration reform, national security fears tied to September 11 have deeply influenced – and continue to influence -- U.S. immigration policy and enforcement.  A decade after September 11, 2001, my posting on ImmigrationProf argued that comprehensive immigration reform was one major piece of collateral damage of that fateful day.  This continues to be the case in 2013.

In terms of immigration enforcement, the initial impacts of September 11 were felt primarily by Arabs and Muslims. For example, the Bush administration in 2002 initiated National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), or “Special Registration,” which required the registration – and fingerprinting, photographing, and interrogation -- of certain noncitizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kuwait.

More generally, as discussed in Kevin R. Johnson & Bernard Trujillo, Immigration Reform, National Security After September 11, and the Future of North American Integration, 91 Minn. L. Rev. 1369 (2007), September 11, 2001, represented a turning point in the debate over immigration reform in the United States. The horrible human losses of that day halted in its tracks the discussion of any easing of immigration restrictions. Moreover, the fear of terrorism, feeding off of a general tendency among many U.S. citizens to blame immigrants for the problems of the day, helped to create a general “close the border” mentality that commanded substantial support among the general public. Consequently, politicians from a wide variety of political persuasions endorsed some sort of border enforcement strategy.

In this vein, a national news retrospective identified five general ways that the U.S. immigration system changed since September 11

1.    Increased funding for immigration enforcement

2.    Increased spending on removals

3.    Increased removals of criminals -- even those we are not worried about.

4.    Turning local police into immigration agents

5.    Tying immigration enforcement into corporate profits (in large part attributable to use of         private contractors for immigrant detention)

Consider the immediate and continuing impacts of September 11 on comprehensive immigration reform. Before September 11, the U.S. and Mexican governments were seriously discussing entering into a migration accord that would have regularized labor migration between the two nations. Similarly, immigrant rights advocates appeared to be close to convincing Congress to ameliorate some of the harshest provisions of the 1996 immigration reforms. Both reform efforts stopped in their tracks on September 11, as the United States immediately became preoccupied with public safety and national security. Since then, the focus in reforming U.S. immigration law and policy has been on fortifying the borders with border fences, providing additional officers and resources to the Border Patrol, and related measures; regularizing the flow of migrants from Mexico to the United States, humane treatment of immigrants, and equitable enforcement of the immigration laws took a back seat.  

In sum, September 11 completely reversed the momentum of the reform debate, shifting it from possible liberalization of admissions and easing of removal and detention to stricter border controls, narrower admissions criteria, and harsher detention and removal proposals.

Many of the most popular proposals would have restricted migration and increased border enforcement. Immigrant rights advocates moved from making a concerted effort at advocating for positive immigration reform to devoting energies and resources toward defending against the passage of punitive immigration laws.

In a comment consistent with the tenor of the current immigration debate, Senator John Cornyn in 2006 emphasized that the debate over immigration reform "is . . . first and foremost about our Nation's security. In a post-9/11 world, border security is national security." 152 Cong. Rec. S2551 (daily ed. Mar. 30, 2006). Similarly, conservative pundits Patrick Buchanan and Michelle Malkin  (for an example, check out Malkin's 9/11 anniversary blog post)continue to make incendiary arguments on the need to close the borders in the "war on terror." Such fears unfortunately have generated push back against immigration reform.

Put simply, we continue to feel the legacy of September 11 today, as the debate over immigration reform remains derailed by national security fears. Moreover, the horrors of the recent events in Syria have for the moment deflected attention from reform.


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