- Immigration, Citizenship, and National Security:The Silent Invasion
Following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States by terrorists linked to the al Qaeda network, the Bush administration set out to destroy terrorist training bases in Afghanistan and to disrupt the operations of al Qaeda. The US government also reexamined thousands of visas and questioned foreign nationals from certain countries known to have terrorist cells. A high priority was given to improving the screening of visa applicants and the security of our visa and passport documents. In the same vein, the government is improving its ability to track visa holders while they are in the United States, and to locate persons with expired visas. New technologies are being used to make entry documents more fraud resistant.
Many of these actions are aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the United States through fraudulent passports and visas. An immense effort has also been expended internally to identify sleeper cells of foreign nationals committed to terrorist plans. The flow of monies from individuals to radical Islamic organizations with ties to terrorists is being monitored and sometimes interdicted.
All of these steps are intelligent and reasonable responses to the new threat the United States faces from the al Qaeda network and allied terrorist groups. The priority given to this overt war against terrorist organizations and nations that harbor them is understandable. However, the United States also needs a comparable scrutiny of the nation's basic immigration system and the implications for national security of our open borders policy. Immigration [End Page 4] policy and practices must be reexamined in the context of new national security threats that never existed in the past.
In contrast with the scrutiny given to passport and visa entry documents and procedures, America's immigration system has not been overhauled in response to the new national security environment. The changes that have been implemented affect mostly tourist and student visa travelers and people seeking to come on a temporary basis, such as those seeking temporary work visas. None of the changes implemented since 11 September 2001 has altered policies affecting basic immigration to the United States. For example, there has been no moratorium placed on new immigration from Arab countries, despite the undeniable connection between radical Islam and terrorism, although new applications from certain countries will certainly receive additional scrutiny.
Perhaps most surprisingly, little has been done to make our northern and southern borders more secure against illegal entry. Over 905,000 people were apprehended attempting to enter the United States illegally in fiscal year 2003, and the pace for 2004 is running 25 percent higher. Local residents along the border with Mexico uniformly claim that two or three trespassers get past the Border Patrol for each one apprehended. If this is true, the number of illegal aliens entering the United States in 2003 was over 2 million. Border Patrol agents working the border regions say the percentage of non-Mexicans among the apprehended aliens is 5 to 10 percent. At the conservative 5 percent figure, there are at least fifty thousand non-Mexicans entering the United States each year across our southern border under cloak of darkness.
Assimilation and Its Enemies
The United States has frequently been called a nation of immigrants, and that is true as far as it goes. All four of my own grandparents came from Italy. In the early twentieth century foreign-born residents at times accounted for up to 12 percent of the population, and recent immigration has approached that same level. Yet numbers alone do not tell the whole story and should not be the principal focus of our national debate about immigration.
There are several dimensions to the immigration-national security nexus. [End Page 5] Every nation has an inherent right to control immigration as a source of new residents, new workers, and new citizens. But new concepts of citizenship and legal advocacy as well as new varieties of immigration can affect how a nation copes with the changes brought on by large-scale infusion of foreign nationals. Today the United States has exceedingly generous immigration quotas and very porous borders, so our annual incoming flow of new...