E.g., 10/01/2023
E.g., 10/01/2023
America's Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties, and National Unity After September 11
March 2003

America's Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties, and National Unity After September 11

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. Based on 18 months of extensive research and interviews with detainees, lawyers, senior government officials engaged in domestic security and immigration issues, and leaders of Arab- and Muslim-American communities across the country, this report offers 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 finds that the harsh measures enacted against immigrants since September 11 have had dire consequences for American antiterrorism efforts, fundamental civil liberties, and national unity. Specifically, the authors find that the U.S. government has placed too much emphasis on immigration as part of its counterterrorism strategy; that immigration enforcement is of limited effectiveness; and that arresting a large number of noncitizens on grounds not related to domestic security provides the American public with a false sense of security. In addition, the report discusses the widespread discrimination experienced by Arab- and Muslim-Americans in the aftermath September 11 and explains how rampant discrimination has undermined our national unity.

In seeking to define an alternative framework for immigration enforcement  and counterterrorism efforts, the authors focus on four broad policy imperatives: mobilizing intelligence and information capabilities; protecting the security of air, land and sea borders and beyond; supporting vigorous law enforcement and cooperation; and engaging Arab-and Muslim-American communities. The report concludes with a series of findings and six key policy recommendations for legislatures and policymakers.

​"This report is a crucial appraisal of the challenge to America: how to ensure security for our country while remaining an open society that protects the rights of all its residents. It is both a courageous and practical report that requires serious attention by our legislators and policymakers."


-Vincent Cannistraro
Former Senior Intelligence Official, Head of Counter-terrorism Operations and Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)


"The 'America’s Challenge' report provides vitally important information for some of the most significant policy debates that now confront the American public and policymakers. How we keep America both safe and free is one of the most important and yet vexing issues of our generation.

The Migration Policy Institute report provides definitive recommendations in the areas of immigration, national security, and inter-group relations. It will certainly be one of the most significant documents consulted by future historians as they assess how this generation of Americans has fared in assuring national security without sacrificing our cherished freedoms."

-Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)


"While concern for national security allowed some to initially justify many of the laws and programs implemented in the wake of September 11, 2001, the costs and consequences experienced by thousands of recent Arab and South Asian Muslim immigrants were devastatingly high.

The work of the Migration Policy Institute provides a sober and detailed assessment of the constitutional, human and political impact of these Department of Justice initiatives, complete with valuable recommendations that will enable us to correct our course.

-James Zogby
President, Arab American Institute (AAI) 

Table of Contents 

I. The Effectiveness of Government Security Responses to September 11

A. The Threat

B. The Response

II. The Effect of Post-September 11 Domestic Security Actions on Civil Liberties

A. Introduction

B. Government Initiatives Based on National Origin

C. Abusive Detention Practices

D. Further Deprivation of Procedural Safeguards: Secret Deportation Hearings, Secret Detentions, and Protective Orders

E. Delegation of Immigration Law Enforcement Authority

III. The Effect of Post-September 11 Domestic Security Actions on National Unity

A. Impact of September 11 on Arabs and Muslims in America

B. Objective Measures of the Impact of September 11 on Minority Groups: Hate Crimes, Employment Discrimination, and Airline Discrimination

C. Historical Overview of the Targeting of Immigrant Communities During Periods of Domestic Security Crisis

IV. An Alternative Framework for Immigration Enforcement and Domestic Security

A. Mobilizing Intelligence and Information Capabilities

B. Protecting Borders

C. Supporting Law Enforcement and Law Enforcement Cooperation

D. Engaging Arab- and Muslim-American Communities

V. Findings and Recommendations

A. Findings

B. Recommendations