9/11′s Impact on U.S. Immigration Policy

Ten years of war, two administrations, and an economic crisis later, most of us still remember where we stood and what we were doing when the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Remembering what life was like before September 11th, however, may be more difficult. I was thirteen on that fateful day, and I along with many of my generation cannot remember a pre-9/11 world. Those terrorist attacks marked a seminal moment in world history that continues to affect American attitudes, America’s foreign policy initiatives, and domestic security—measures that have resulted in, among other things, small-scale xenophobia and pervasive paranoia.

In September 2011, Muzaffar Chishti gave a lecture at Cornell Law School on 9/11’s impact, titled “A Scorecard 10 Years Later.” Mr. Chishti is the director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University School of Law. He serves on the board of directors of the National Immigration Law Center, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Asian American Federation of New York. In 1994 he received the New York State Governor’s Award for Outstanding Asian Americans and in 1995, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Mr. Chishti discusses 9/11’s impact below.

The response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 cut a large swath across the U.S. policy landscape—from major military and foreign policy actions to the biggest reorganization of the federal government since the end of World War II, and a greatly invigorated focus on homeland security and aviation safety. It also prompted a profound realignment of the US immigration system—toward increased information sharing across international, federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and changes in the detention arena.In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a set of immigration enforcement measures targeting non-citizens from countries with known links to Al Qaeda. These inevitably had a huge impact on constitutional rights and the lives of Arab and Muslim immigrants. Most of those nationality-specific policies have been shelved, but they have been replaced by a much wider and more robust immigration system dominated by national security and enforcement considerations. Congress authorized exponential growth in funding for immigration programs with a connection to homeland security and gave new life to a number of side-lined or slow-moving initiatives. The post-9/11 decade has also seen the birth of a new generation of interoperable databases, reshaping immigration enforcement at the federal, state and local levels through data mining and sharing.

The response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 cut a large swath across the U.S. policy landscape—from major military and foreign policy actions to the biggest reorganization of the federal government since the end of World War II, and a greatly invigorated focus on homeland security and aviation safety. It also prompted a profound realignment of the US immigration system—toward increased information sharing across international, federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and changes in the detention arena. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a set of immigration enforcement measures targeting non-citizens from countries with known links to Al Qaeda. These inevitably had a huge impact on constitutional rights and the lives of Arab and Muslim immigrants. Most of those nationality-specific policies have been shelved, but they have been replaced by a much wider and more robust immigration system dominated by national security and enforcement considerations. Congress authorized exponential growth in funding for immigration programs with a connection to homeland security and gave new life to a number of side-lined or slow-moving initiatives. The post-9/11 decade has also seen the birth of a new generation of interoperable databases, reshaping immigration enforcement at the federal, state and local levels through data mining and sharing.

The creation of new data systems or increased use and integration of established databases collecting information from international travelers and students, noncitizens booked into jails and others have led to a range of new programs and initiatives.

The US Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) ranks among the most visible of the post-9/11 travel-control initiatives the government has implemented to reduce security vulnerabilities. Since 2003, through US-VISIT, the United States has collected fingerprints and photographs from all noncitizens entering the United States by air and sea, as well as certain land-border travelers, deterring the entry of people ineligible to enter the United States or deemed to pose a security threat.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System
One of the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States on a student visa but never showed up on campus and two of the hijackers had pending applications to change their status from tourist visas to student visas. After 9/11, Congress stepped up its earlier demands for tightened oversight of the admission and stay on international students. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which was authorized by Congress in 1996 but implemented only after 9/11, permits the tracking of international students, and all schools and programs hosting international students and scholars are required to use the digitized system.

SEVIS requires reporting of student enrollment, start date of a student’s next term, failure to enroll, drop below full course load, disciplinary action by the school, and early graduation.[i]

This decade has also been marked by the significant use and expansion of detention policies, and the increasing role of state and local governments in immigration enforcement and policymaking.

A collateral consequence of the 9/11 attacks has been the lack of progress on any immigration policy proposal outside the ambit of national security. With the intense and almost exclusive focus on enforcement and national security objectives, other immigration policy proposals, such as the Dream Act, have failed to gain the necessary political traction. A major casualty of this development has been the near demise of comprehensive immigration reform proposals that would include a legalization program for the current unauthorized population—proposals that had garnered significant bipartisan political support just before the 9/11 attacks.

Nevertheless, everyone realizes that our current immigration system is broken. It remains to be seen whether Congress can enact comprehensive immigration reform or only smaller efforts such as the DREAM Act or electronic verification of employees’ work eligibility.


[i] Michelle Mittelstadt, et al., Through the Prism of National Security: Major Immigration Policy and Program Changes in the Decade Since 9/11, Migration Policy Institute, August 2011 (available at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/FS23_Post-9-11policy.pdf).

 

2 thoughts on “9/11′s Impact on U.S. Immigration Policy

  1. Pingback: How Immigration has changed since 9/11 | Contemporary American Politics

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