Protecting the Homeland

Ten Ways to Keep America Safer Without Trampling on Immigrants

3. Shrink the Haystack Identifying criminals from reams of information is a needle-in-the-haystack pursuit. Security experts applaud new tools to help them hone in on that needle—but it's equally important, they say, to shrink the haystack. Instead, some new procedures heap more hay onto the pile. For instance, knowing that people granted student visas actually enroll in school is useful—it weeds out those who never do as possibly suspicious. But requiring that the INS track what they are majoring in and how many credits they're taking only bogs the system down. Similarly, a proposed law requiring that male entrants from seven Middle Eastern countries (soon to be expanded to 26 countries, and then more) present themselves periodically to be photographed, fingerprinted, and report changes of address uses up tons of technical and human resources, but also produces tons of unusable information. Suppose Mohamed Atta had shown up for his fingerprint sessions. How would that have prevented—or even raised suspicions about—his nefarious plans?

4. End Racial Profiling Never mind that rounding up Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims on the basis of national origin and/or religion is politically incorrect, says law professor David Harris; what's worse, the hard facts show that it is counterproductive. In his book Profiles in Injustice: Why Police Profiling Cannot Work, Harris examines statistics collected by state and local police and customs-inspection agencies and builds a damning case that race-based stops-and-searches don't help get guns, drugs, or criminals off the streets. In New York, for instance, a 1999 attorney general's report showed that police stops of African Americans and Latinos, though far more common, were less likely to result in arrests than stops of whites.

"Race is a distraction," Harris explains. "It takes law enforcement off the track." And of course, Al Qaeda is smart enough to sign up recruits who don't fit the stereotype: suspected "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla, for example, is a Latino U.S. citizen. Finally, profiling alienates the very people who could assist the government most—including translators and informants. "We need people to come forward if they observe behavior that is genuinely suspicious," says Harris. "That takes a relationship of trust and of people feeling they are part of America. So what do we do? Declare that thousands of Arab and Muslim men will be brought in for questioning and lock hundreds up for visa violations? It's the dumbest thing we could do."

illustration: Jack Black

5. Regularize the Status of Mexican and Other Undocumented Immigrants Who Contribute to America The U.S. spends millions of dollars each year going after undocumented Mexicans—even as agribusinesses demand the low-wage labor they provide. Before 9-11, as Migration Policy Institute co-director Demetrios Papademetriou puts it, the U.S. was finally beginning to "tell ourselves the truth about the realities of the labor market and to adjust immigration policy accordingly." The U.S. and Mexico came close to agreeing on opening new legal channels for seasonal workers coming to the U.S. and for those already here to earn status.

Since then, panic has choked off these efforts. That's too bad, says Papademetriou, because border security is improved when unauthorized migrants can be isolated. Moreover, the political game of chasing migrant workers "breeds illegality, turns employers into criminals, and encourages the violation of labor and human rights." The INS pours resources into hounding lettuce pickers while Atta and his cohorts waltz right in. Meanwhile, a report released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed that the $2.5 billion-plus crackdown on the Mexican border over the last nine years has increased the number of Mexicans who stay in the U.S. illegally rather than risk crossing back and forth for temporary jobs.

6. Improve the Service Side of the INS A permanent resident from Sweden—let's call her Yvonne—files a routine application to bring her husband into the U.S. with a spousal visa. Months go by, then a year, and Yvonne's request has yet to be processed; indeed, under the current backlog, such applications can take half a decade. So her husband gets a tourist visa, joins Yvonne, and stays on when the visa expires. The couple thus joins the millions of "illegal aliens" pushed out of status by the INS's own sluggishness. (Non-citizen partners of gay and lesbian Americans are forced into this tourist-visa strategy from the get-go because they don't qualify for spousal visas at all.) In turn, the enforcement side of the INS spends inordinate resources trying to find and deport them.

It's impossible to calculate how many millions of dollars the INS might save on enforcement by beefing up its service provisions, but there's no question that the mounting backlog—it quadrupled to nearly 4 million applications in the last decade, according to a May 2001 General Accounting Office report—diminishes security. "Staff are rewarded for the timely handling of petitions rather than for careful scrutiny of those petitions' merits," a more recent GAO study reported, leading to "rampant" and "pervasive" fraud. Critics of the DHS fear that the service side of the INS will wither under the pervasive enforcement mentality of the new department—or be left to shrivel financially if separated from the rest of the INS, as some Congress members have proposed. Either way, diminishing INS services further exacerbates the security threat.

« Previous Page
Next Page »