How 9/11 Changed Immigration

Published On: Donate

With the ten year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, many are beginning to reflect on how that tragic event has reshaped our world.

That September morning would become a critical turning point for our public life. As we reflect back we see a country’s path redefined in a matter of hours, and our national approach and attitude towards immigration was no different.

A new factsheet released last week by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Through the Prism of National Security: Major Immigration Policy and Program Changes in the Decade since 9/11, examines 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.”

This excellent resource outlines the changes that happened as the country reacted to the new security threat and built a cooperative information sharing system designed to keep citizens safe from the unpredictable threats of terrorism.

9/11 changed the way policymakers structured the funding for immigration programs, authorizing “exponential growth” for those initiatives connected to national security and enforcement.  Those policy proposals “outside the national security ambit became sidelined amid the intense focus on border security.”

Understandably, the government had an immediate duty to close the security holes that allowed for the horrific attacks to take place. In an era of disproportionate power, where a handful of individuals could cause so much suffering and destruction, it was imperative to reimagine the security apparatus to find ways to counter this unique threat.

However, a decade later the security focus has not broadened to encompass the multitude of needs within the issue of immigration? For how long will we ignore the mounting challenges in immigration legislation in favor of a one-track approach of enforcement and security? For how long will we live in a constant state of heightened security that monopolizes our priorities?

Can we find the space to both focus on securing our communities from the threats that continue to haunt our peace, while still remaining open to the beneficial flow of immigration that has helped build and sustain this country? This is no simple question to answer, because it seems to be connected to our larger political challenge of polarization. When we draw a line in the sand and demand our brothers and sisters choose a side we often present them with a false choice.

There is a great deal of power in a person, institution, or government that has a singularity of purpose. It served a purpose in the times following the attack, allowing the government to find new ways to protect the country from covert threats. However, as we continue to move further into a new century of complex competing needs, spending all our political energy in security initiatives can eventually neglect issues that inadvertently weaken the very thing we are fighting to protect: our ideals and way of life. For a decade we have prioritized our security while neglecting our well-being. In a balanced approach we could do more, by securing our safety and our future, by protecting our citizens from harm and our families from separation.

We need your thoughts. How do we get our fellow Americans and representatives to think bigger and incorporate both aspects into our political discourse and legislation?

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