Protecting the Homeland

Ten Ways to Keep America Safer Without Trampling on Immigrants

7. Untangle the Laws Syed comes to the U.S. legally as a high-tech computer whiz—one of 195,000 "special workers" who are invited into the U.S. each year. But he loses his job when the dotcom bubble bursts, and thus his visa-sponsoring employer. In the meantime, he has married a U.S. citizen and had a child. He wants to legalize his status, but the law requires him to leave America and apply from his country of origin. Because he spent time here illegally, his re-entry can be barred for up to 10 years—and that's not a matter of INS inefficiency, it's the law. Why risk being separated from his family for so long? Why bother to apply for adjustment of his status? Hundreds of thousands don't. And the INS goes after them at enormous cost.

That is just one of dozens of immigration laws Congress enacted to "get tough" on illegal aliens that sent the INS into overdrive. In the Senate hearings at the end of June, David A. Martin, former general counsel of the INS, said the INS has had little time to work on improvements over the last six years as it has scrambled to keep up with "a variety of complex new statutory initiatives" and an "unwieldy and hard-to-manage set of rules and procedures." INS could provide better security if it were charged with carrying out simpler and more sensible laws.

8. Look Beyond the Border While the government seeks to plug holes—and corruption—in its visa-granting systems, it needs to focus at least as much attention on the movement of goods as on people, insists Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander and now a national security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. As he argues in a recent Foreign Affairs article, the most serious danger of the 9-11 attacks was "the exposure of the soft underbelly of globalization": America's embrace of global networks—along with capital's resistance to regulations as barriers to competitiveness—has produced "lanes so open that they practically invite terrorists to do their worst." As U.S. trade with Canada more than tripled from 1985 to 2000, Flynn notes, the number of Customs officials assigned to the northern border decreased by nearly a quarter. Moving biological or chemical weapons into the U.S. can be far easier than snagging a student visa.

illustration: Jack Black

But the fix cannot happen at the border itself. It takes five inspectors three hours to conduct a thorough check of a loaded 40-foot container or an 18-wheel truck, he points out, and in 2000, 11.6 million maritime containers, 11.5 million trucks, and 2.2 million railroad cars passed through U.S. border inspection. Cursory looks at even a minuscule portion of such vessels can back up border traffic for hours—producing chaos that terrorists can easily exploit. So inspections must, says Flynn, "move upstream." That means employing such devices as biometric travel ID cards for transnational truckers and captains; loading containers in security-sanitized facilities and fitting them with tamper-resistant mechanical and electronic seals; tracking their routes with E-ZPass-like transponders. Such protocols require international cooperation—especially among the handful of "mega-ports" through which almost all trade passes (Long Beach, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hamburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam). Security must extend far beyond the "homeland."

9. Recognize the Connections Between U.S. Trade and Foreign Policy and Migration Controlling migration into the U.S. does not begin at the border. People leave their homes and their countries because of economic and political forces that are often manipulated—or dangerously neglected—by the U.S. Take U.S. policy on coffee, for instance. Until the 1990s, a key component of anti-Communist foreign policy was to artificially elevate coffee prices in Latin America to support the huge number of rural workers laboring in the coffee fields. As a recent Wall Street Journal investigation revealed, the post-Cold War ideology of free trade brought an end to international agreements to prop up coffee prices, and Latin American farms have collapsed. The World Bank estimates that in Central America and Mexico, 600,000 permanent and temporary coffee workers have lost their jobs in the last two years alone. With no means of making a living, they are heading north. "If you really want to do something about illegal immigration," says the Migration Policy Institute's Papademetriou, "you engage these places, spend some money, rethink trade policy. But nowadays, 'security' trumps everything, and in this environment, you can't even mention such ideas. But of course they relate very directly to security if people are falling into criminal smuggling networks."

10. Consider the Security Implications of U.S. Foreign Policy In the end, migration and foreign policy analysts say, the best way to reduce the number of potential terrorists trying to enter the U.S. is not primarily a matter of immigration policy, but of foreign policy: That is, the focus needs to be not on reducing immigrants, but on reducing potential terrorists. In political terms, suggests Phyllis Bennis, author of Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis, America is doing the opposite. As long as the U.S. is perceived as bringing death and disease to innocent people in Iraq, ignoring the plight of Palestinians, pursuing Saddam Hussein with unilateral bellicosity, and holding the rest in the world in contempt by withdrawing from international treaties, bin Laden will have an eager gallery to play to. Bennis is cautious to note that "no matter how drastically our government changes its policy, it can't eliminate the hostility of an Osama bin Laden." Nonetheless, she says, policies redressing these matters "would dramatically change the widespread support the attacks received in wide swatches of the world and dry up the breeding grounds for his recruits." The Department of Homeland Security—no matter how it is configured—cannot accomplish that crucial task.

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