Immigration and Security: Immigration in the United States

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The attacks of September 11, 2001, marked a turning point in world history. The attacks killed 3000 people making it the deadliest terrorist attack in human history. It changed our perceptions of the world, it changed our way of life, it changed our view of terrorism, it without a doubt succeeded in causing panic and fear across the globe, and more importantly, it made us ask ourselves are we truly safe?

Many people view immigration in the United States as a threat to the very fabric of our nation. They fear that these immigrants will somehow erode our Nation’s values and make America less American. 9-11 prompted a major shift in the way the country handles immigration, creating new government bodies and tightening restrictions on who can enter this country. However, the biggest change that occurred revolves around an increase in bias and fear by the average American.

As a result of 9-11, security and immigration have become inexorably linked, far too many Americans think of all Arabs as Terrorists and all Hispanics criminals. This paper will attempt to address the various changes that have occurred in the areas of Immigration and Security in the Post 9-11 United States. We will concentrate on a few key issues in this debate while focusing on how fear, bias, and hatred have increased and how many of these changes in policy have further radicalized or even help created more problems without having any effect on making our country any more secure.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, marked a turning point in world history. The attacks killed 3000 people making it the deadliest terrorist attack in human history. America and the world were not prepared or even thought it was possible for such a coordinated and devastating attack to take place on or above American soil. It changed our perceptions of the world, it changed our way of life, it changed our view of terrorism, it without a doubt succeeded in causing panic and fear across the globe, and more importantly, it made us ask ourselves are we truly safe?

How does this country maintain its security while still profiting from what immigration brings to the United States? We are a nation of immigrants. From the first settlers of this Nation, seeking religious freedom to the immigrants who built our railroads, built our cities, fought our wars, and created what is now America. There is no doubt that immigration has made us stronger as a Nation and will continue to make us stronger into the future.

However, our immigration policies have failed to keep up with our nation’s needs and the ever-changing world economy. The United States’ outdated systems now welcome some groups and block others. There seems to be little consideration for the skills we need and what immigrants can bring that would enhance our economy. One of the largest challenges is changing people’s perspectives and combatting the fake news that is rampant throughout our society.

This paper will attempt to address the various changes that have occurred in the areas of Immigration and Security in the Post 9-11 United States, concentrating on a few key issues in this debate, while focusing on how fear, bias, and hatred have increased and how many of these changes further radicalized or even help create more problems without having any effect on making our country safer. This is a complex question that involves national security issues, immigration issues, party politics, and our ability to combat terrorism.

9-11 prompted a major shift in the way the country handles immigration, creating new government bodies and tightening restrictions on who can enter this country. However, in my opinion, the biggest change that occurred revolves around an increase in bias and fear. Now after 9-11, and the fact that terrorism and immigration have become linked it seems like far too many Americans think of all Arabs as Terrorists and all Hispanics criminals.

How can people properly assimilate into our society when they are faced with discrimination? Is our Naturalization too long, too complicated? The immigration debate raises a fundamental question that needs to be answered. Can immigrants successfully integrate into American society or will they remain foreigners inside our borders?

Our Country after the tragedy of 9-11, has adopted policies and behaviors – where we seem to now look the other way when it comes to the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. Illegal search and seizures, due process violations, and the ability to question immigration status when a person has committed nothing more than a moving violation have given our law enforcement community far too much power. The majority of all these arrests have nothing to do with combating terrorism or truly making our nation safe.

Does this debate center around what rights a non-citizen or criminal possesses when they are illegally in the United States? The question remains how we enforce our laws in a manner that is ethical while securing our border and ensuring the safety of our citizens. This nation’s values are enshrined within our Constitution, it is what makes our nation great. So, when we violate those standards, how can we preserve our core values at the same time? So now let us review some of the major policies and laws that were implemented after 9-11.

One of the most significant differences is that in 2002, the Homeland Security Act was passed. This created the Department of Homeland Security; which placed 3 major agencies that dealt with the security of our border and immigration, and terrorism under DHS. Now we have a new Federal Department which employs over 230,000 people and oversees an annual $50 Billion-dollar discretionary budget. Every American who travels on aircraft has seen a dramatic change in the security measures taken at airports. We have increased vigilance for screening foreigners when they are traveling to the United States.

Truly one of the most important changes was the implementation of the Patriot Act into Law on October 26, 2001. The Act’s full title is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The Act allows federal officials greater authority in tracking and intercepting communications, both for purposes of law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering.

There have been many issues in the area of civil liberties and violating the rights of immigrants with the passage of this legislation. From detaining immigrants without cause to what the average person would consider illegal searches and seizures. It is a fact that the Patriot Act increased our safety and security, but the questions remain at what cost?

The Immigration and Naturalization Act was updated and broadened after 9/11. Most importantly was the need to deny entry to anyone with any type of association with terrorist groups. With this, deportations have doubled in the last decade, and criminal deportations have increased at an even higher rate. Even deporting people with criminal records, we were not worried about and posed no threat to our country. Additionally, the Secure Communities Act empowered local law enforcement agencies to become mini-immigration agents.

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program targeted foreign nationals from 25 countries. It was implemented to screen potential “high-risk” populations in the United States. As the book points out nearly 83,000 people registered for the system and then deported for their cooperation. At face value, it is easy to understand why this wasn’t a good program and that there are other programs that can be more successful with such a discriminatory practice.

We also required all immigrants to report their change of addresses. This immediately overwhelmed the system and it proved to be a total waste of manpower, money, and time. What terrorist is ever going to report their correct information? The number of interrogations increased for Muslims based on religion, the profiling of Muslims at airports, and the closing down of charities based on the fear they supported terrorism. The updated immigration laws, with the Secure Communities Act, empowered local law enforcement agencies to become mini-immigration agents.

This new act in my opinion really spread racial profiling across the very fabric of our country. During routine traffic stops we allowed local enforcement officers the ability to question a person’s immigration status with no reasonable doubt. This created horrible problems in our communities and alienated our own citizens. It is easy for the police to find a reason for pulling you over. We have seen this played out before in African American communities.

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Where is the federal over-site of these activities when local law enforcement is enforcing immigration laws? What civil liberties did we crush and how many people’s lives were forever changed by these discriminatory practices? In the end, is our country safer due to racial profiling? The answer is no, the benefit did not outweigh the cost.

Half of U.S. Muslims say they find it more difficult to live in this country since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Pew Research Center surveys. Acts of violence against Muslims broke out immediately following 9-11 and have been prevalent ever since. Four days after the attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh-American man, was shot and killed in Mesa, Arizona. The gunman wrongly assumed Sodhi was Muslim because he wore a turban. In 2001, the FBI recorded 93 anti-Muslim assaults — a number that was not eclipsed until 2016, when the bureau recorded 127 such incidents.” 

It was discussed in class that it can take up to three generations for immigrants to fully assimilate into our country. Taylor and Shaw point out that this process includes the immigrant population shedding their beliefs and culture and then accepting America. I am sure this is a very hard process for some. There is nothing wrong with anyone holding onto their religion and their way of life. This is what has made this country great. Each wave of immigration has brought many positive aspects to our country. It is as if we take the best things from around the world to make a better place for all.

Taylor-Shaw discusses the seven steps to the assimilation process. These include Acculturation, Structural, Marital, Identification, Attitude Reception, Behavior Reception, and Civic Assimilation. How immigrants process through these phases is largely dependent on their race, religion, and nation of origin. We still suffer from racism and bias in this nation. We have experienced throughout our history with the African Americans, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics, etc.

“According to the Census Bureau, despite making up only 16 percent of the resident population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, immigrants represent 33 percent of engineers, 27 percent of mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists, and 24 percent of physical scientists. Additionally, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2011, foreign-born inventors were credited with contributing to more than 75 percent of patents issued to the top 10 patent-producing universities.” 

“Much of the anti-immigration debate revolves around the idea that immigration gives society more people to take care of. Rarely do people realize that quite the opposite is true — that immigrants create new populations of people who buy things. In the heavily commercialized country that is the United States, new arrivals need to buy food, rent an apartment, and spend money in their local economies in order to survive. This, in turn, makes small businesses grow, for which they often need to hire more people to serve their newfound customers. Indeed, Mexican immigrants actually make up 4 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.” 

Many people want to cloud the immigration issue by saying that immigrants commit more crimes and make our nation less safe. However, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than non-immigrants. As explained in The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, the evidence shows that immigration is not linked to higher crime rates and hasn’t been for the past century. In fact, data shows that immigration is associated with lower crime rates and immigrants are less likely than the native-born to be serious criminals. 

There are millions of people here who are considered illegal. The current debate is on the wall, but how do we deal with the 15 million that are already in our Country? The largest percentage are individuals who came to the country legally, yet now have stayed beyond their VISAs. How do we handle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? But, most importantly, how do we change the narrative that is rampant throughout our society? That immigrants are criminals, they bring disease, and most importantly they are a serious strain on our economy.

One of the biggest problems that we still face is that Congress has been unable to agree on comprehensive immigration reform since the 9/11 attacks. But what exactly needs to be changed? Regardless of the fear and hate, is this truly an issue or do we still have the Statue of Liberty’s immortal words in our hearts as Americans? The National debate seems to concentrate on two distinct issues. The first is our southern border and the second is Islamic fundamentalism.

Our Country took a devasting blow on 9-11. People are afraid and this xenophobia has caused many people in this country to feel all immigrants are criminals or terrorists. But, let us break it down into major issues. First, we do not have a national security issue or a terrorist issue on our southern border. Second, Islamic fundamentalism is a direct threat to this country and will be for the next few decades. We do need to protect the American citizens from this threat.

So how are these two issues related? They are related out of fear, hate, and ignorance. Arabs are the new African Americans, the new Irish, the new Italians, and the new Hispanics. Whoever is the next new ethnicity that is different from the mainstream. It does not matter that 99% of all Arabs are peaceful. It seems that the majority of all Americans fear all Arabs. The same is true for our southern border. There is no threat, but it seems like many Americans have linked the border into a larger context of national security and terrorism, and to me, that is also linked to fear and racism.

As our Country developed after both World Wars and as the world became more global. The Immigration laws of the United States became more liberalized. We understood that to be competitive we needed to look throughout the world for the best and brightest to come and live and work in this country. Additionally, we are still the country of the American Dream. As stated in class, three-fifths of all immigrants come to the United States.

We are a nation of immigrants. From the first settlers of this Nation, seeking religious freedom to the immigrants who built our railroads, built our cities, fought our wars, and created what is now America. There is no doubt that immigration makes The United States stronger. Many people seem to forget that immigration for now over 243 years, brought the vast majority of Americans to this land in the first place. It is almost ludicrous to debate whether immigration is a positive or negative phenomenon. It is a fundamental part of the very foundation upon which the country was built.

Many people in the United States view immigration as a threat to the very fabric of our nation. They fear that these immigrants will somehow erode our Nation’s values and make America less American. This is a highly contentious subject that is based on bigotry and fear.  This fear has grown as a result of the 9-11 attacks.

So how do we reform the immigration laws that will allow us to build a brighter future and ensure our security? In my opinion, there is no body of evidence that since 9/11, our country is vulnerable to severe threats thru our current immigration policies. So how do we show the average American the benefits that immigration has provided this country for almost two and a half centuries?

People from other countries want to move to the United States because they are looking for the American Dream – of economic opportunity, freedom, and a better life for themselves and their families. Throughout this country’s short history, we have always benefitted from this influx of people from other countries. We are a melting pot, where other cultures and ethnicities meld to create a better America. Immigrant workers throughout our history have made a lasting contribution to our society, our economy, and our nation.

However, our immigration policies have failed to keep up with our nation’s needs and the ever-changing world economy. The United States’ outdated systems now welcome some groups and block others. There seems to be little consideration for the skills we need and what immigrants can bring that would enhance our economy. While we have linked immigration with security and created a far safer country. We still have not tackled the complex issue or over-hauling our entire immigration system.

This country requires elaborate immigration reform. It seems to be the case that since 9-11, our new laws and procedures have ensured that our Nation will never experience a terrorist attack of this magnitude. I believe that our National Security is intact. However, right now, our country is deeply divided and one of the largest and most contentious issues is immigration. Until our politicians make a decision for the millions of immigrants currently in our country, we cannot move forward and everything else pales in comparison when it comes to immigration reform.

However, as each generation presents itself – I believe this country becomes more and more understanding, more open-minded, and less biased. So, we go back to the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty “…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”. Maybe our country has more restrictions. Maybe there is more fear. Maybe it is far more politicized than ever. But, in my opinion. This is still a great country. We are a melting pot, this is what has made our country strong. Regardless of the hate. We are about freedom from oppression, we are about opportunity and anyone who does not believe this has truly forgotten what this country was founded upon.

References

  • d’Appollonia, Ariane Chebel (2012). Frontiers of Fear: Immigration and Insecurity in the United States and Europe. Cornell University Press. Ithaka, NY.
  • Furman and Gray. 2012. Ten Ways Immigrants Help Build and Strengthen Our Economy. The White House.
  • Kelly, Natalie. 2013. Seven Surprising Ways Immigration Helps Build a Stronger America, The Huffignton Post. New York.
  • Rumbaut, Rubén G. 2015. The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States. American Immigration Council. Washington, D.C
  • Santhanam, Laura, and Epatko, Larisa (2018). 9/11 to today: Ways we have changed
  • Shaw-Taylor, Yoku (2012). Immigration, Assimilation, and Border Security. Scarecrow Press. Lantham, MA.
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