By Michele Waslin, Ph.D.
This paper documents the impact of counterterrorism measures and policies implemented since September 11 on the Latino population.
The government’s counterterrrorism efforts have had the most negative effects on American Muslims and Arab Americans. However, as discussed below, many of the newly-enacted policies have had a detrimental effect on Latinos as well, which will continue to be felt for many years.
Perhaps the change that will have the most far-reaching impact on the
Latino community is the creation of a broad, new national security agency. The law creating the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS), signed in December 2002, abolishes the INS and incorporates
immigration services and enforcement into DHS – a move that fundamentally changes
the way that immigrants and
immigration are treated in the
Long before September 11 it was obvious that the INS needed to be
restructured in order to better serve immigrants seeking residency and
citizenship in the
The authorizing legislation for the new agency ignored this debate and the proposals it produced. The new law sends a clear message that all immigration is to be treated as a national security issue, and that immigrants will be viewed as terrorist threats. Simply burying all federal immigration functions in the Department of Homeland Security without restructuring the INS, as originally proposed, is unlikely to fix the inherent problems of immigration processing and enforcement nor is it likely to make Americans safer.
In a move touted as a counterterrorism device, but which criminalizes and alienates law-abiding immigrants, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would renew enforcement of section 265(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a 50 year-old law requiring all noncitizens to report a change of address within ten days of moving. The law also attaches criminal penalties to failure to submit a change of address, and may even lead to deportation. The first high-profile application of the law was the case of a Palestinian man who was stopped for driving four miles over the speed limit and then placed in removal proceedings for retroactively failing to file a change of address form. This latest attempt to track immigrants subjects millions of Latino immigrants to deportation simply because they were unaware of this rule at the time they moved. Even those who correctly submit the forms may experience problems because the INS has not been able to process the forms that it has received by mail. In July 2002, the press reported that the INS had 200,000 unprocessed change of address forms sitting in boxes in an underground storage facility. Since then, the number of forms received by the INS has skyrocketed from 2,800 per month to 30,000 per day. The nearly one million additional forms that the INS has received are now also sitting in storage, exposing a large number of immigrants to potential deportation for allegedly failing to comply with the law. Enforcement of section 265(a) is clearly not aiding in the war against terrorism, provides the INS and its successor agency with more information than they can handle, and criminalizes the activities of innocent, law-abiding immigrants.
State and Local Police Enforcement of Federal Immigration Law
Another new measure promulgated after September 11 has been to enlist state and local law enforcement officers in a variety of activities. While the safety and security of our communities and our country are of the utmost importance, and increased information-sharing between intelligence agencies will aid counterterrorism efforts, new policies that would allow local police departments to enforce federal civil immigration law may, in fact, hinder terrorist and other criminal investigations, and have a serious negative impact on Latino communities.
In June 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that state and local police have the authority to enforce civil and criminal immigration violations of immigration law. In the months since that announcement, state and local police have been called upon to catch violators of the new registration and change of address requirements. In April 2002, several months prior to Ashcroft’s announcement, the press reported that the DOJ was poised to issue a new legal opinion. This new, unreleased Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion purportedly declares that state and local police have the “inherent authority” to enforce civil and criminal immigration violations of immigration law. While the legal opinion has never been made public, this announcement indicates that the DOJ has reinterpreted the law and overturned decades of legal precedent, sending an immediate chill through Latino communities. Ashcroft’s June 2002 announcement appears to be based on this unreleased legal opinion.
The mere suggestion that local police may have the authority to enforce immigration law has resulted in fear in Latino and immigrant communities resulting in increased unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement, to report crimes, and to come forward as witnesses. Millions will be affected by this rule as law enforcement officers, who are untrained in immigration law, stop and question Latinos and other Americans who “look” or “sound” like they might be foreign. Unlike federal immigration officials, police departments do not have training in or understanding of the complexities of immigration law. As a result of these problems, police departments lose the trust of the communities they aim to protect, communication between the police and large segments of the community is lost, and all Americans are less safe. Many police departments across the country have stated that they will not involve themselves in immigration enforcement because they recognize the detrimental effects that the loss of community trust can have.
Airport security is an obvious concern following the terrorist attacks. However, several of the measures taken by the federal government in an effort to enhance airport security have had a harmful effect on Latino workers. While these policies may convince the public that the government is improving airport security, they do not accomplish any meaningful antiterrorist goal.
As a legislative response to the terrorist attacks, Congress passed an
aviation security law in November 2002.
The Aviation Transportation and Security Act (ATSA) requires that all
baggage screeners be
In addition, a series of new interagency airport security sweeps named “Operation Tarmac” has resulted in many more Latino and immigrant workers losing their jobs, but has not caught a single terrorist. Operation Tarmac includes employment file audits and criminal background checks of airport employees followed by enforcement sweeps and arresting those with immigration violations. In some cases state and local police, and even state Departments of Motor Vehicles, have worked with the INS and other federal agencies on Operation Tarmac activities. As a result, low-income service workers including janitors, food service workers, mechanics, and other workers who never come into contact with planes have lost their jobs, producing headlines that suggest an active enforcement effort to the general public, even if it is unproductive with respect to terrorism.
The citizenship requirements of both ATSA and Operation Tarmac have had profoundly negative consequences for Latino workers, but have not had a positive effect on enhancing airport security.
The issue of restrictions on eligibility for driver’s licenses has been one of the most important and broadly-felt problems for the Latino community. Without a driver’s license, individuals are often unable to open a bank account, rent an apartment, establish service for utilities, or participate in many other facets of daily life. Prior to September 11, there were efforts in many states to improve road safety by broadening access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who live and work in the community so that they may obtain proper driver training and vehicular insurance. However, the revelations that some of the 19 terrorists had state-issued driver’s licenses caused many states to propose and enact restrictions on immigrant access to driver’s licenses despite the fact that that all of the 19 had other valid documents, such as passports that could serve as identification. Not only have these practices prohibited many undocumented immigrants from getting licensed, but many legal residents and even U.S. citizens have been caught in the restrictions because of harassment and discrimination, or because poorly-conceived policies deny licenses to some of those lawfully here. At the federal level, several bills to restrict immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses were introduced, and other proposals to standardize licenses across all 50 states – creating a de facto national ID card – were considered in 2002. Driver’s license restrictions have already been introduced in several states in 2003.
Although portrayed as a counterterrorism measure, denying driver’s licenses to large segments of the population is counterproductive. Like all Americans, many immigrants must transport themselves for job- or family-related reasons. By allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, the roads become much safer because proper driver training is ensured, more drivers will have insurance, and the government will have documentation of immigrant drivers on the road.
IMPLICATIONS FOR COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM
Comprehensive immigration reform, which is well-documented as a public
policy priority for Hispanic Americans, including those who are not immigrants,
has been another victim of the terrorist attacks. Prior to September 11, President Bush and
Despite the delay in action, the nation’s focus on preventing terrorism since September 11 highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform. There are two specific elements to this overhaul that are clearly in the nation’s security interest: creating a procedure that brings undocumented immigrant workers in the U.S. out of the shadows and into contact with civic authorities; and regulating the flow of future migrants who will continue to seek job opportunities in the United States, and who currently enter without inspection thereby reducing undocumented immigration.
It has long been clear on all sides of the immigration policy debate
that the current immigration policy regime has failed to regulate the flow of
migrants to the
The increasingly obvious hypocrisy in the nation’s immigration policy
has led to calls from a variety of sectors, including the business community,
labor movement, religious community, and ethnic groups, for reforms that better
align immigration laws with the dynamics driving migration. These calls have taken on a new urgency since
September 11. The existence of a large
undocumented population in the nation’s neighborhoods and workforce, which
fears contact with civic authorities and is increasingly isolated by virtue of
changes in driver’s license policy and local police practices, is clearly
inconsistent with U.S. security objectives.
There are no indications that the flow of migrants into the
Immigrants continue come to the
Yet, there is another side to the story. Many are applying for citizenship out of a sense of fear; they feel that they must become citizens as their only protection from abuse at the hands of various law enforcement agencies. This problem extends beyond immigrants to family and community members who also feel fearful and alienated regardless of their citizenship status.
In the post-September 11 environment, the
In order to address these concerns and move policy in a more positive direction, NCLR believes the government should:
Like all Americans, our nation’s Latinos want to be safe and free from future terrorist attacks. While there are important steps that must be taken to ensure our country’s security, it is unnecessary, and probably counterproductive, to harm hardworking, contributing members of our American society who happen to be – or look like they are – foreign-born.
Beyond the Census: Hispanics and an American Agenda.
According to the Urban Institute, one in ten children in the
Mark, “Minor immigration slip becomes
costly to INS: Palestinian faces ouster on little-used law,” Atlanta
See National Council of La Raza, Mobilizing
the Vote: Latinos and Immigrants in the
2002 Midterm Election.
 See Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC), www.ewic.org. EWIC is a coalition of businesses, trade associations, and other organizations from across the industry spectrum concerned with the shortage of both skilled and lesser skilled (“essential worker”) labor.
 Testimony on Immigration Policy, presented by Raul Yzaguirre, National Council of La Raza, before the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing: U.S. Mexico Migration Discussions: An Historic Opportunity, Washington,DC, September 7, 2001.
 Over 700,000 new naturalization applications were received in FY 2002, compared to 501,646 in 2001 and 461,000 in 2000. INS Monthly Statistical Report, September FY 2002 Year End Report.