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October 2002, Volume 9, Number 10

9-11: One Year Later

Public opinion polls taken around the time of the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attack showed continued patriotism and support for the military. They suggested also that many Americans had changed their views on their own security: September 11 demonstrated that Americans can be targets of terrorists because they are Americans.

After 9-11, the US government used violations of immigration laws to arrest, detain and deport foreigners who were suspected of having ties to terrorists. Before September 11, 2001, these violations were frequently overlooked by the authorities. Indeed, just before September 11, there was discussion of an "earned legalization" for unauthorized foreigners in the US who had jobs and paid taxes.

None of the 1,200 foreigners arrested and detained in secret after September 11 was charged with an act of terrorism. Instead, after periods of detention that ranged from weeks to months, most were deported for violating immigration laws. The government said that 752 of 1,200 foreigners arrested after September 11 were in custody in May 2002, but only 81 were still in custody in September 2002.

The US government has a great deal more authority over non-citizens than US citizens. US citizens who are arrested must be charged with a crime and, if they face jail time, offered a lawyer at no cost. However, non-citizens who are arrested for immigration violations are not entitled to a no-cost lawyer. If a foreigner is detained, the only way to challenge the detention is to file a writ of habeas corpus asking a judge to force the government to explain why the foreigner is being detained. However, when the immigrants arrested after September 11 filed such writs, they were often deported for violating immigration laws, ending the case.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA Patriot Act) expanded the definition of "terrorist activity," making more persons liable to such charges. There are 80,000 alleged terrorists on the State Department's watch list, and the list is growing by 2,000 names a month. To prevent them from entering or leaving the US, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System requires the INS to fingerprint and photograph men from 26 countries.

A July 2002 poll by the National Constitution Center found Americans deeply divided between the view that government should tilt toward protecting civil liberties and the view that ensuring national security should take priority. Some 54 percent of Americans believe the government's response to terrorism has either "already crossed the line" or is "threatening to cross the line" in violating an individual's right to privacy. At airports, 58 percent agreed that passengers should be screened randomly, regardless of name or background, while 37 percent supported profiling, selecting, for instance, Middle Eastern men for intensive screening.

After being reminded that some of the September 11 hijackers were in the US illegally, 58 percent of the respondents said that unauthorized foreigners deserve no constitutional protections and 61 percent supported their immediate deportation. A Fox News opinion poll in November 2001 reported that 65 percent of Americans favored stopping all immigration during the war on terror.

Just after September 11, trust in President Bush and the federal government soared. However, in the intervening months, the percentage of Americans who think Bush is doing a good job, or that security agencies are protecting Americans, has fallen by 20 to 30 percent. The exception is confidence in the military, which has remained over 80 percent.

Other Effects. Mary Robinson, the outgoing United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said the US "put all the emphasis [after September 11] on combating terrorism and has not been fully upholding human rights standards. And that's having a ripple effect on other less democratic countries," reducing respect for human rights in Egypt, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. Robinson cited the use of US immigration laws to detain foreigners for indefinite periods, the racial profiling of people of Arab descent in searches, and the prosecution of US citizens as enemy combatants, limiting their rights.

A G-8 Exercise Alert was conducted in Canada, the US, Japan, Russia and Western Europe around September 11, 2002; all persons entering these countries with Nigerian passports were checked carefully. Nigerian passports had been stolen, and there was concern that the stolen passports could be used by followers of Osama bin Laden..

The number of Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States has grown from fewer than 200,000 in 1970 to almost 1.5 million in 2000; 73 percent are Muslims. Muslim immigrants are well educated: in 2000, 49 percent had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 28 percent of natives.

Under the airline security law approved after September 11, all airport screeners must be US citizens. Many of the screeners hired by the private firms before September 11 were immigrants, and a bill pending in Congress would allow current security screeners who are immigrants to apply for the new, better-paying Transportation Security Administration screener jobs. The Service Employees International Union, which represents screeners at several airports, had pressed for the change, arguing that experienced screeners were being denied the opportunity to receive higher TSA wages, and that the INS was too slow to process naturalization applications.

By September 2002, some 22,000 new screeners had been hired, and the majority were non-Hispanic whites. TSA screeners must pass a ninth-grade-level English exam- 120 current screeners at LAX took the test, and all failed. The average reading level of US-born adults is eighth to 10th grade, and of foreign-born adults is sixth to eighth grade.

Eddy Ramirez, "Americans Still Divided on Issue of Rights vs. Security," Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2002. Julia Preston, "Departing Rights Commissioner Faults U.S.," New York Times, September 12, 2002. David G. Savage, "Critics Say Terror Probe Bends Immigration Laws," Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2002. Campbell Clark, "Arab-Canadians fear 'persecution' at border," The Globe and Mail, September 10, 2002. Tom Godfrey, "Customs targets Nigerian visitors," Toronto Sun, September 10, 2002.