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September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the United States forever. The planes that went crashing through the twin towers in New York City in which a group of immigrants was responsible made the United States rethink its immigration policies, rewrite its laws, and reinforce its borders (Donovan, 2005). Quite, a few, changes were made to what was intended to improve the immigration policy but instead created fear, threats, and hardship for immigrants seeking to become a citizen of the United States that could not have been imagined when the changes were proposed.
Throughout this paper, I will discuss the administrative changes that took place intending to protect the homeland.
Following the momentum from the civil rights movement being developed in the 1960s, immigration policies were reconstructed to make it much easier for people from formerly restricted nations to become U.S. residents and citizens. This trend continued until the 9/11 attack caused an abrupt stop to immigration leniency. The investigations on the terrorist from that day showed how easy it was for the attackers to gain entry and reentry into the U.
S. which was quite appalling for most Americans (Donovan, 2005). Lawmakers found it was necessary to adopt new legislation and make it more difficult for immigrants to enter the country. Funding to upgrade border security was increased significantly and closer examination of applicants had also increased. One of the major changes that took place was an entire revision of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Attorney General went as far as making immigrants who gave an appearance of suspicion to register and be subject to investigation (Donovan, 2005).
Immigrants and lawmakers were fearful, they suspected the worst and took extreme precautionary measures to protect the nation but in doing so created a confused, fearful and suspicious environment for immigrants. Rachel Swarns stated that “New measures penalize people who have nothing to do with terrorism” (Donovan, 2005). While I can agree in part that immigrations policies affected several immigrants, I also believe our policies were a bit too lenient prior to the 9/11 attack. The United States is where people come to “Live the American Dream” so why would it be simple to gain residency.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was created in 1891 and later dismantled in the wake of the 9/11 attacked (Donovan, 2005). The creation of the Department of Homeland Security became the federal government’s most important non-military response to the tragedy. Their primary purpose was to prevent terrorist attacks, limit vulnerability, and minimize damage from natural disasters within the United States. INS was one of the many organizations that transferred into DHS, many protested this move because it was believed that moving the organization into a government department who’s primary purpose was to combat terrorist was implying that “non-U.S. citizens are indistinguishable from terrorists” (Donovan, 2005). This transitions caused a large backlog of applications that were waiting to be processed. It was clear that after the attack and the transfer of INS to the Department of Homeland Security the new immigration process lacked in more ways than one. It seemed as though INS became an organization specifically looking for terrorist trying to enter the country rather than processing immigration applications. Many believed INS had a dual and contradictory function, to help people become Americans and to prevent people from becoming Americans (Donovan, 2005).
Furthermore, government leaders decided to separate the disparate functions of reviewing applicants and being responsible for deportation so they created several organizations to make the process easier and less fearful for immigrants. The United Sates Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) was designed to facilitate the application process that all immigrants undergo (Donovan, 2005). The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) enforces immigration laws, investigates, detains, and deports illegal aliens (Donovan, 2005). The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (USBCBP) ensures that only authorized people and goods gain entry across national boundaries as well as managing the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which tracks nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors (Donovan, 2005). DHS now decides who may or may not be issued visas and enforces regulations however the work of issuing visas is done overseas in consular offices a components of the U.S. Department of State. The purpose of the separation was to reassure applicants that the government agency which they sought services would only be in charge of investigations and not deportation, it was a separate entity. It was to reassure that the USCIS was to only concentrate on processing all applications for citizenship and other immigration benefits .
Once USCIS was established improvements were going to take place to be able to process applications more effectively. The computer monitoring and information system would be upgraded to allow immigrants to have better access to relevant information. Exams would become standardized. An ombudsman office would exist nationally and in every state to ensure effectiveness. And most importantly the backlog of clients waiting for services would be reduced from 6 million to less than 400,000 (Donovan, 2005). USCIS wanted to develop and upgrade technology that might provide more efficient services, to streamline services so people wouldn’t have to drive and wait in long lines to have a question answered. But the processing of visas and other benefits including citizenship applications had not improved and continued to have lengthy delays in processing times (Medina, 2006). The offices were understaffed and suffered from lack of communication causing failure to conduct custody reviews during the mandated time frame (Medina, 20016). Immigrants with no link to terrorist activity of any type experienced long periods of detainment and even deportation from the U.S. for reasons that had nothing to do with terrorism. Secret evidence was used to exclude and deport immigrants, and most commonly the use of racial and ethnic profiling all increased. Things had gotten to where the government did not find it unconstitutional to remove or deport a spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen. The United States was hyper focused preventing terrorism they do not stop to really consider whether they were being rational to others who had already been living in the United States waiting their process date. Immigrants to some, became synonymous with terrorist (Medina, 20016). Although terrorism does not discriminate on the basis of citizenship status government laws do (Medina, 2006). Noncitizens lack the protection of citizenship status. After 9/11 and threats/attacks that followed, policies were changed and noncitizens with as much as a traffic violation or expired visa risked deportation. INS detained thousands of immigrants because they were seen in company of suspicious aliens not because illegal acts were being committed (Donovan, 2005). It was clear that the new primary mission was not to service applicants but national security. Measures taken after 9/11 were making it harder for legal and illegal immigrants to live and work in America. Immigrants feared the over-zealous effort to find and deport people who remotely resembled those who constitute threats (Donovan, 2005).
Though the policy changes seemed over-zealous they had their advantages. Attacks and threats that the U.S. experienced prior to 9/11 was incomparable to the damage 9/11 did to our nation both physically and emotionally. Yes, it sparked stricter immigration policies, but rightfully so. People seeking residency or citizenship in the United States should have to go through a thorough background check to try to anticipate their intentions for waiting to take up residence in the U.S. Admittedly it is not realistic to know for certain whether the applicant is lying or being truthful but the thorough check allows us to say we did our best. It eliminates the ease of a potential attackers being able to enter the country without setting off warnings to the serval organizations now monitoring people’s movement and potential terroristic activity. A few weaknesses that have steamed from these political changes with immigration is the racial profiling that has become nearly inevitable for a middle eastern to experience. The United States has a large community of middle eastern residents and citizens that unfortunately are exposed to a greater chance of being suspected of terroristic activity. The new policies have also made it difficult for people seeking citizenship that have zero affiliation with terrorism to become a citizen in a timely manner. A great example of this would be my friend who is an Army spouse that was born in Uruguay and has been trying to become a citizen for nearly five years. She has had to call several times to get status updates, and when she didn’t receive a response she scheduled an appointment and drove two hours only to ask a question.
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