Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A half-dozen ways in which 9/11 changed the immigration landscape

Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) search a vehicle heading into Mexico at the Hidalgo border crossing on May 28, 2010 in Hidalgo, Texas. T
Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) search a vehicle heading into Mexico at the Hidalgo border crossing on May 28, 2010 in Hidalgo, Texas. T
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last May, after the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, I published a short list of some of the most important ways in which the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that he masterminded radically altered the immigration landscape.

The legislative, policy and other changes that have occurred since are almost too numerous to list. Last month, the Migration Policy Institute released a report detailing some of the policy highlights, more than a dozen changes ranging from skyrocketing border and interior immigration enforcement costs to changes in the way we travel (for example, U.S. citizens must now present passports when returning by land, even if it's from a quick day trip to Tijuana).

Beyond immigration policy, there have been legislative changes such as the still-active Patriot Act, along with less direct but powerful shifts in the nation's immigration climate that have had led to enforcement-friendly policies and increasingly strict immigration measures at the state level. Less quantifiable, but important still, have been attitudinal changes, particularly toward Muslims, which continue to affect immigrants today.

I've updated this list detailing some of the key changes, taking in major post-9/11 shifts in immigration policy, legislation and beyond:

1) The end of INS, the beginning of DHS: The discovery that some of the 9/11 hijackers were in the country on visas that shouldn’t have been granted led to the end of the decades-old Immigration and Naturalization Service in early 2003. Until then, the agency had overseen all immigration functions from visas to border security. It was replaced by the much broader Department of Homeland Security.

Three sub-agencies within DHS were given authority over immigration matters: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (overseeing customs and border security, including the U.S. Border Patrol)U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, overseeing functions such as naturalization and the granting of legal residency; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which is responsible for immigration enforcement in the United States, oversees immigrant detention and deportation, and is responsible for enforcement policies such as Secure Communities and 287(g).

2) The Patriot Act: Less than two months after the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001,” a controversial measure referred to as the Patriot Act.

This piece of legislation expanded the federal government’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance. Among other things, it allowed law enforcement agents greater ability to conduct wiretaps and to search telephone, e-mail, financial, medical and other records, as well as to conduct property searches without advising the owner. It also made it easier for law enforcement and immigration authorities to detain and deport immigrants suspected of being connected to terrorism and placed greater scrutiny on foreign students. The Patriot Act has long been criticized by civil rights groups, who have alleged misuse and constitutional violations and complain that Middle Eastern immigrants are singled out.

In late May, the Obama administration extended three key provisions of the Patriot Act, including the use of roving wiretaps.

3) The REAL ID Act: This 2005 national security legislation that followed the Patriot Act revolved around establishing national standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards, but it had farther-reaching provisions. The legislation also made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain asylum, and broadened the definition of terrorism-related activities that could lead to detention and deportation. There was also a border security component, most notably a provision that allowed the Department of Homeland Security to waive any laws, environmental or otherwise, and litigation standing in the way of border fence construction.

A precedent was set in the fall of 2005, when then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff exercised the waiver authority in San Diego. This allowed for lawsuits challenging the filling in of a deep canyon with dirt in order to build fencing to be thrown out of court, leading to the costliest stretch of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Other waivers cleared the way for additional U.S.-Mexico border fencing (much more of it, including a failed “virtual fence,” funded under the 2005 Secure Border Initiative); one REAL ID Act waiver authorized a roughly 470 mile stretch of fence. Proponents of border fencing, which was limited before 9/11, say it has helped bring down the number of illegal crossings; immigrant advocates, meanwhile, have long criticized border fencing as driving human smuggling into rougher terrain, leading to border-crossing deaths.

4) Increased immigrant detention and deportations: Under the Obama administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has carried out a record number of deportations. Behind these numbers are a series of ICE policies that kicked in after the agency’s creation in the wake of 9/11, policies that after the attacks focused on weeding out immigrants thought to pose a danger to society. Among these has been a push starting in 2003 to track down “fugitive” immigrants, people who missed an immigration hearing or ignored a deportation order.

The embattled Secure Communities program, also intended to weed out people with criminal records (though many detained have lacked these) is another product of the post-9/11 focus on immigrants believed to present a security threat. In the intervening years, the number of ICE detainees has skyrocketed, as have government contracts with private detention contractors. While detention demand began ticking up in the late 1990s following policy changes, just between 2005 and 2008, the ICE detention budget tripled. In fiscal year 2010, which ended last Sept. 30, ICE deported more than 392,000 people, about half of whom had criminal records.

5) Cooperation between federal immigration officials and local police: The escalating controversy over Secure Communities comes out of a post-9/11 increase in cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local agencies. The most public examples of this cooperation are Secure Communities, which allows for the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration officials. Initiated in 2008, the program is rooted in the post-9/11 drive for national security, but its critics say that while its intent is to net criminals, it lands far too many non-criminals in the deportation net. Cities and states that have tried to back out of the program have not been allowed to; the federal government recently rescinded all state contracts for the program staying participation is mandatory.

Another notable federal-local cooperation is a program known as 287(g), which provides local authorities with ICE training, is used by the county to identify deportable jail inmates. Unlike Secure Communities, agencies' participation in this program is voluntary. As of late last year, there were 69 law enforcement agencies participating in 24 states; Secure Communities is by now operating in more than 1,500 jurisdictions, according to ICE, whichplans to continue rolling the program out nationwide.

6) Anti-Muslim discrimination: In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes jumped to a record 481 in 2001, according to one news report. The number of hate crimes against Muslims hasn’t been as high since. However, Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States, along with other groups, have since felt targeted for numerous reasons.

Some of the discrimination Muslims in the U.S. have felt since came from institutional sources: In 2002, the federal government launched the since-canceled National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), also referred to as “Special Registration.” Non-citizen men from predominantly Muslim special-interest countries were required to register with their nearest INS office, a program that landed thousands in deportation. Another temporary policy targeting Muslims was Operation Liberty Shield, which required the detention of asylum seekers from nations - again, mostly Muslim countries - where al Qaeda was known to operate. Civil rights advocates have also criticized the surveillance of mosques and Muslim groups by law enforcement officials, including the FBI and, most recently, the New York Police Department.

Overall anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States has spiked more recently, with protests against the building of mosques, from the heated protests that took place in New York City near Ground Zero last year to smaller protests in places like Temecula. Earlier this year, an angry mob shouted “Go back home!” to Muslims attending a fundraising dinner in Yorba Linda. Several non-Muslim Sikhs, who wear turbans, have also been targeted by mistake over the years. This year, two elderly Sikh men died after being shot in March by an unknown assailant as they went for a stroll in their Sacramento suburb.