Terrorism, Human Nature and U.S. Immigration Law
September 26, 2001

By: Richard Hanus, Esq.

Earlier this month, our nation was victimized by acts that we could only imagine taking place in the movies or our worst nightmares. Cowards, in the name of their god and religion, plan an extensive operation that would take their own lives as well as those of thousands of others they never met.  Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children, whether they be the victims who died, or those surviving, never saw it coming. Our view of the world is changed. Everything from how we think about flying in an airplane to walking downtown amidst the tall buildings, is altered by these events and the painful images brought to us through newspaper and television reports.

We also think about our fellow humans differently, no matter how sophisticated or open minded we like to think of ourselves. Persons who in any way resemble those terrorists, are under suspicion. Whether they have similar looking faces, similar sounding last names, or practice the same religion, our nature is to generalize and second-guess any trust we may have had. When is our trust justified and when is it not? This is a question a lot of us are facing, especially as we confront our own tendencies to stereotype and be fearful, two entirely normal human reactions to these atrocities. It is also a question facing our nation as a whole as we wonder about the adequacies of our immigration laws, along with the many other systems we thought we could rely on, such as airline and airport security, truck driver license screening, flight school screening, etc.

What effect will this month’s atrocities have on our country’s immigration laws? Based on my recent conversations with clients, family and friends, this is a question on the minds of our nation’s immigrant population as well as the public at large.

As to most people now undergoing some sort of immigration process, such as those awaiting permanent residence or change of status processing in the U.S., or consular processing abroad, nothing has really changed at this point, and it does not appear very much will change in the near future. Clearly more attention will be paid to those with possible terrorist connections, or names that are close in spelling to those on “look out” lists.  For the most part though, no new procedures to significantly alter the immigration process have been introduced up to this point.

What type of immigration law, or immigration law enforcement mechanism could have put a stop to what took place? From my standpoint,  the problem has very little to do with our immigration laws per se, since we already have laws on the books regarding the requirements to obtain certain types of visas at U.S. consular posts abroad and the inadmissibility of members of terrorist organizations. Since it appears that the cowards at hand entered the U.S. legally, on some sort of visitor or student visa, to me, it is in the way we carry out already existing laws that should now be called into question.

We have learned that many of the identities used to obtain the visas in question were stolen, and assumed names and biographies were presented in order to gain entry into the U.S. The remedy, as is obvious, is better intelligence and investigation mechanisms overseas.

And what about those already in the U.S.? The remedy, as we see being implemented at this very moment, seems to be more thorough and better-funded intelligence mechanisms domestically. Again, we have laws on the books imposing criminal penalties or deporting noncitizens with connections to terrorist organizations. We just have to get to know better who they are.

That is not to say that you will not hear many politicians and pundits hop on the anti-immigrant bandwagon to blast the system in general and how lax it is. And it is lax. Most people know that our nation’s resources are not in the least bit directed toward tracking those who enter the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas, whether they be tourists, students or temporary workers. Once you are in the U.S., you are practically invisible and under the current system, can probably live out your life without proper immigration status and without consequences from the Immigration & Naturalization Service. But, when you think about it, it is not necessarily our immigration enforcement mechanisms that really led to this month’s terrorism. In fact, up to the point of hijacking and crashing the airplanes, these terrorists could very well have been entirely compliant with the terms of their non-immigrant status in the U.S.

We now know, however, that more needs to be done in investigating who our enemies are, where they are staying, and preventing them from entering or living in the U.S. and committing future acts. Knee jerk reactions like closing our borders, or excluding/deporting/condemning all Muslims or those with a Middle-Eastern appearance are clearly not the answer, especially since we know that being Muslim or Middle Eastern (as opposed to being a depraved, fanatical coward) has very little to do with what took place earlier this month.

However, because this month’s attacks have brought the inadequacies in our present immigration law enforcement mechanisms to the forefront of the national debate, it is most unlikely we will soon see the enactment of immigration measures that will be helpful to the undocumented or overstay community in the U.S.   That means legislation like the continuation of Section 245(i) or other high profile amnesty measures to allow undocumented in the U.S. to legalize their immigration status will not be seen anytime soon.

As our country continues to recover from the harsh physical and mental blows we sustained, lets hope that justice comes the way of our nation’s enemies, and that not too high a price is paid by the public in terms of our civil liberties and dignity. As to measures helpful to the undocumented/overstay community, we will just have to wait and see.

Copyright © 2001-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois