WASHINGTON — The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 prompted the profound realignment of the U.S. immigration system, with national security and enforcement the dominant lens through which programs and budgets have been shaped over the past decade.
The post-9/11 era has witnessed the largest government reorganization since World War II; increased information sharing and data collection across international, federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies; the broad use of nationality-based screening and enforcement initiatives; and the expansion of immigrant detention policies. The heightened security focus also has provided the impetus for increased state and local involvement in immigration enforcement and policymaking — previously a realm almost exclusively the province of the federal government.
A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Fact Sheet released today, Through the Prism of National Security: Major Immigration Policy and Program Changes in the Decade since 9/11, lays out major policy, budget and organizational changes that have occurred in the U.S. immigration arena as an outgrowth of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Among them: exponential growth in funding for immigration programs tied to homeland security and reinvigoration of sidetracked or long-delayed immigration initiatives (such as the development of an entry-exit system and the launch of the 287[g] federal-state immigration enforcement partnership).
“One of the most important and less-examined developments of the post-9/11 era has been the birth of a new generation of interoperable databases that exist at the intersection of intelligence and law enforcement, supporting programs such as US-VISIT,” said MPI Senior Fellow and fact sheet co-author Doris Meissner, who was commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) during the 1990s. “The creation of these databases and, most crucially, their linkage with other government databases for national security and other screening purposes has reshaped immigration enforcement at the federal, state and local levels.”
The decade since 9/11 has witnessed new visa controls and traveler-screening systems; a major expansion in border enforcement (with a doubling of the Border Patrol and the advent of physical fencing and high-tech surveillance equipment deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border); and significant new interior enforcement initiatives such as 287(g) and Secure Communities.
“The U.S. immigration system we have today — marked by an intense focus on national security and border control — is a defining legacy of September 11, 2001,” said co-author Muzaffar Chishti, who is director of MPI’s office at NYU School of Law. “The resulting immigration machinery, developed to help secure the nation’s borders, now is also being directed more generally at illegal immigration and the unauthorized population.”
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.