The decade Since 9/11 in Immigration

I was working on a sunny morning when my legal assistant came in looking agitated and said,”Did you hear, the World Trade Center got hit by a plane.” I did not think much about it. I did not have a TV in the office, so I did not get the impact. Then my husband called and said, the towers are falling. The news took a long time to sink in, actually.  It was unbelievable that such a thing could happen, right in the middle of NYC. 

That past summer we were in NYC, and although we don’t usually do the touristy thing in NYC, we thought it would be fun to take the children on top of the twin towers. That night my son clutched the bear he bought from the gift store on the top and said, “you are safe bear, although a lot of your friends may have not survived.”

Thankfully all our friends who worked at the WTC were safe. Yet the specter of death, the sheer magnitude of it gave rise to tremendous nationalism. Flags went up everywhere, and we could not help but feel solidarity towards the people. We were one America, scared by the ravages of terrorism.

Yet, as so often happens in Nationalism, there was a backlash to internationalism.

Soon people began to discriminate against others who looked like Muslims, or looked foreign. For their part, the Muslims began to bad mouth America as well. Thus began a mutual distrust and hatred, which saw the passing of the Patriot Act. In those early days, Immigration Services showed up at the door of illegal Muslims, without any warrant, or any documents, and deported them, simply because they were from Pakistan, or Iran.

The Immigration Service instituted the ‘Special Registration” a process by which citizens of Muslim countries had to register, with their information to the Government and testify as to whether they know of any terrorists. They had to let the Immigration Service know when they exited the country and when they got back. This process was so similar to the Japanese internment that we all wondered if America, the home of the free was lost forever.

This was followed by the notoriously slow FBI name checks. If you applied to become a Permanent Resident or a Citizen, the FBI had to (1) clear fingerprints, and (2) Do a name check. The fingerprints were unique so they cleared quickly. But the name check involved a computer search of the name or combination of names that could match any known criminals on the FBI database.  That database was never released to the public. Of course since Muslims have common type names like Muhammad , their names would very often get a hit.  But so would Hispanic names or simply names like Jones or Smith. If the name got a hit, an individual officer would have to go into the files and manually make sure that the applicant was not the same as the criminal.  The problem is that this would take 3-4 years.  Our plea that if these people really were criminals, would it not be safer to do the check as soon as possible and deport or prosecute them were not heard.  99% of these cases ultimately cleared, yet these individuals had to wait a long time before they could get their green cards.  Many times they were scared to visit or for legal reasons could not visit their home country until they got their green card. This meant they could not see many a dying parent, although they never committed any crime.

Yes, we went into two wars, we have to go through lengthy process of checks at airports.

Yet, things seem to be getting better.  The FBI name checks eventually got quicker, and is not much of a problem any more. The Special Registration process was scrapped earlier this year.

Of course we can never replace the lives lost that fateful day, and we may never become the trusting country that we were pre 9/11.  Yet maybe that’s a good thing.  The world is becoming very small and the trusting simplicity that America, Canada and UK have are not matched by most other countries. That day 09/11/2001, we had lost our ignorance and we stand now, like the rest of the world, distrusting our citizens.

Even now it is so much easier to pull the wool over the eyes of these countries than it is to do that to the rest of the world. Routinely applicants for Asylum concoct their stories and very often the US government buys those fib. I have been asked by Muslim citizens from certain countries whether they can convert to Christianity and claim Asylum. Thankfully I dont do Asylum. Same is true , although to a lesser extent to many immigration cases. Its time the Government smarten up and treat their citizens like the rest of the world does. No one can do that to the Israeli, Chinese or even Indian Government.

And for my part, I would happily succumb to a search at the airport if this means we all can be safe.

Contact Houston Immigration Lawyer, or Houston Immigration Attorney Annie Banerjee, for more information