Immigration situation worsens post 9/11
America may still be known as the “melting pot” but stirring through its immigration policies has become more cumbersome for immigrants seeking to enter the country since 9/11.
Ed Bailey, who leads immigrant legal counseling services for YMCA International as a social responsibility director, said that he believes much of the immigration debate would be nonexistent had the then-arranged meeting between President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox actually happened.
“The Mexican president was due in Washington DC to sign an agreement with President Bush regarding workers,” Bailey said. “And, had that happened, my guess is that much of the immigration debate that we have been involved in for the last 10 years would have been averted.
“Things were moderate, and we were on to a good track into the summer of 2001. And, then, we had the 9/11 event. Things regressed, and we went back to strict policy. We haven’t really recovered from that to this day.”
Major changes in immigration law have had far reaching implications that have deeply impacted the psyche of America
From changes in the process of granting asylum to the heightened security, the complexity of these issues makes it difficult to develop solutions in US immigration.
UH Immigration Clinic Associate Professor Geoffrey Hoffman shared some of his insights on the legal decisions that have shaped society since 9/11.
“Following 9/11, Congress passed a series of laws which have had great impact on immigration. Most importantly, Congress replaced the former Immigration and Naturalization Services with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its various sub-agencies. This change was designed to separate out the enforcement functions from those agencies whose main task is the granting of benefits,” Hoffman said.
The Patriot Act of 2001 provided greater authorization of law enforcement agencies to conduct domestic surveillance, Hoffman added. The act also allowed for detention and deportation of alleged terrorists and supporters and placed greater scrutiny over foreign students, he said.
“The other major piece of legislation was the REAL ID Act of 2005, which greatly restricted the jurisdiction of federal courts to hear habeas corpus petitions for immigrants in removal proceedings,” Hoffman said.
“REAL ID also provided an exclusive method for challenging a final order of removal or deportation and imposed prohibitions on judicial review for certain immigrants who have discretionary claims or certain criminal convictions.”
Bailey said the REAL ID Act made his work dealing with foreign refugees more difficult because it requires his clients to make consistent statements during their claims, a difficult task since many have been traumatized.
“In my judgment, it goes beyond what’s reasonable. Essentially, none of us are consistent. We are holding these refugees to a higher standard than we hold ourselves,” he said.
Bailey said fear became the driving factor for setting immigration policies post 9/11. He said he disagrees with many people who fear other cultures on the basis that allowing immigrants in the country put Americans in jeopardy.
“Bad actors have always been bad actors whether they are inside the United States or outside the United States,” he said.
Jessica Brown, an assistant professor in the department of sociology, said changes in security measures since 9/11 have contributed to the lengthiness of the immigration process.
“Depending on what country you’re coming from, you have to go through more hurdles,” she said, citing criminal background checks, fingerprinting and interviewing as some of the steps in the process.
Brown said the most shocking thing about 9/11 for her was when Muslims men were forced to turn themselves in for registration.
“A lot of people were detained for weeks and months,” she said. “I have friends in the Muslim community, and this was something that was really terrifying for them.”
Changes were also made in how an individuals data is populated during security scans, especially at airports, Bailey added.
“There’s always been some kind of background check but now with increased consolidation of databases, there is an increased possibility for multiple hits on a person’s name, meaning there may be two or three people or hundreds of people with the same name,” he said.
“When that’s the case, it requires a human being to go back and do a process of elimination to find out who’s who. And, that sort of thing can take a long time.”
Hoffman said he’s noticed the security changes in his practice as well.
“I have witnessed long delays in certain cases involving immigrants from particular countries due to FBI background checks and security concerns,” Hoffman said.