November 17, 2003
U.S. Immigration Enforcement Policies Compromise Civil Liberties
Current U.S. immigration enforcement policies, including the ongoing registration program for men from predominantly Muslim countries, are not only ineffective at countering terrorism, they may further compromise national security, conclude experts from the Migration Policy Institute.
Muzaffar Chishti, director of MPI at NYU Law School, will testify November 18 on the consequences of immigration measures at the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the civil liberties implications of the government’s post-September 11 actions.
Chishti’s policy recommendations are based on a recent MPI report, “America’s Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties and National Unity after September 11.” The report authors found that government successes in apprehending terrorists have come from international intelligence breakthroughs and law enforcement cooperation, not immigration initiatives.
“Immigration measures since September 11 have failed to make us safer, compromised important civil liberties, stigmatized some critical segments of our population, and have not resulted in any terrorism-related prosecutions,” Chishti said.
“America’s Challenge” examines the government’s post-September 11 immigration measures from three distinct perspectives: their effectiveness in fighting terrorism; their impact on civil liberties; and their effect on America’s sense of community as a nation of immigrants. It evaluates nationality-based enforcement initiatives, including the voluntary interview program, the nationality-specific absconder initiative, and Special Registration program, as part of selective law enforcement placing the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans at risk. This is considered in the broader historical context of immigrant groups being targeted during national security crises.
The report also includes the most comprehensive analysis yet of the individuals detained in the wake of September 11 and their experiences. The government has still not released specifics on the more than 1,200 people detained. However, for the detainees for whom relevant information was available, the study finds that the majority had significant ties to the United States and roots in their communities. Over 46 percent had been in the United States at least six years. Almost half had spouses, children, or other family relationships in the United States.
In light of these conclusions, “America’s Challenge” advances an alternative policy framework that integrates immigration policy and counter-terrorism. Its pillars are improved international intelligence and information-sharing; strong border protection; vigorous, intelligence-based law enforcement; and engagement with Arab-and Muslim-American communities.
“We believe it is possible to use immigration measures more effectively to defend against terrorism, while also protecting the fundamental liberties at the core of American identity,” said co-author Doris Meissner, senior fellow at MPI and a former INS commissioner.
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