Washington, D.C. — The September 11 attacks demanded a powerful response, but blanket measures such as roundups and arrests, intimidating interviews, lengthy detention, and special registration requirements are blunt tools: despite their use, many of the September 11 terrorists would probably be admitted to the United States today since most had no previous criminal, terrorist, or immigration records.
The government’s successes in apprehending terrorists have come not from immigration initiatives but from international intelligence breakthroughs, law enforcement cooperation, information gleaned from arrests made abroad, and interagency information-sharing. Intelligence and immigration policy have to work together to be effective in combating terrorism.
These are among the conclusions of a wide-ranging review of post-September 11 immigration measures described in “America’s Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties and National Unity After September 11.” The report, released today by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), involved 18 months of research. It is the most comprehensive compilation and analysis yet of the individuals detained in the wake of September 11, their experiences, and the government’s post-September 11 immigration measures.
“The report takes both civil liberties and security needs seriously and integrates them into a single framework,” said MPI Co-Director and a co-author of the report Demetrios Papademetriou. “Its recommendations may not please purists on either side.”
Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism operations and analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency, and a member of a panel that advised the authors, said, “This is a courageous and practical report that requires serious attention by our legislators and policymakers.”
“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. The report advances an alternative policy framework that integrates immigration policy and counter-terrorism. The framework’s pillars are improved intelligence, information, and information-sharing; smarter 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.
“America’s Challenge” goes well beyond the scope of the recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general regarding treatment of immigration detainees. More than 1,200 people—the government has refused to say exactly how many or what has happened to all of them—were detained after September 11. Despite the government’s efforts to shroud these actions in secrecy and continuing refusal to identify the detainees, MPI was able to compile information on more than 400 detainees through interviews with lawyers and community leaders and through a survey of press reports, largely in local media.
The report’s appendix contains summaries of each of these individuals. The pattern that emerges shows persistent violations of due process as well as harsh law enforcement measures directed solely at males from Arab and Muslim countries. Unlike the hijackers, the majority had significant ties to the United States and roots in their communities. Of the detainees for whom relevant information was available, 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 addition to analyzing the detentions and other nationality-targeted immigration actions, the report evaluates other key efforts such as intelligence-gathering and interagency intelligence-sharing. Among these findings, MPI identified weaknesses in interagency coordination that are hampering counterterrorism efforts and damaging other key national interests.
The report also reviews how immigrant groups have been targeted during national security crises throughout American history and investigates the impact of current measures on America’s communities of Arabs and Muslims. The report finds that the government’s actions have frightened and alienated Arab- and Muslim-Americans, undermining counterterrorism goals. Programs such as special registration became a vehicle to sweep up even those with minor immigration violations. This has discouraged compliance by raising fears that deportation could be the price of participation and cooperation.
But the fear has also produced some unexpected responses. “The experience of Muslim and Arab communities post-September 11 is, in many ways, an impressive story of a community that first felt intimidated but has since started to assert its place in the American body politic,” said Muzaffar Chishti, Senior Policy Analyst at MPI and a co-author of the report.
MPI’s report is based on interviews with detainees and their lawyers, interviews with current and former senior government officials involved in domestic security and immigration issues, a series of interviews around the country that gauged the impact of the crisis on Arab- and Muslim-Americans, and extensive legal and historical research. The law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton provided extensive pro bono assistance with the detainee and legal research for the report. MPI also convened a high-level advisory panel that included law enforcement, counterterrorism and civil liberties experts, and leaders of affected immigrant communities to provide advice and guidance. Read the report here.