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Uncle Sam Wants You: Immigrants And The War Against Terrorism
by Gary Endelman

Gary Endelman The jarring numbers slap you as they jump off the page: 68% of Americans polled in last month's Zogby International survey favor putting troops on the borders; 58% want fewer immigrants and only 23% say yes to another amnesty. President Bush proposes to make the INS part of the new Department of Homeland Security which will also gobble up the immigration judges and the consular visa function. Who gets a visa to come here is now a matter of national defense.

Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called this a "paradigm shift" and observed that "immigration is now primarily a matter of internal security rather than a phenomenon that strengthens the country." California Congressman Christopher Cox openly wondered whether the service aspect of immigration could survive:"At the heart of the INS dysfunction," he told the Orange Country Register,"is its schizophrenia about whether it is a welcome wagon or a border patrol." The notion that immigration is a vital element in American foreign policy, a concept that an angry Secretary of State Powell reminded Tom Ridge in a recent phone call might carry with it some profound international implications, does not seem to be the dominant mind set in the White House just now.

In his message that accompanied his Homeland Security Bill, President Bush made it clear who should be in charge of immigration policy: "The Secretary of Homeland Security would have the authority to administer and enforce all immigration and nationality laws, including the visa issuance functions of consular officers." In a rather delphic utterance, the President went on to entrust his new Cabinet creation with "the sole responsibility for managing entry into the United States and protecting our transportation infrastructure." What this means for any lingering hope that INS might become a more client-focused and rational agency was made crystal clear by Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a restrictionist think tank in Washington, DC: "The fact remains that the INS's emphasis is now going to be enforcement. That is perfectly appropriate given the type of war we are in."

The chill coming out of the Justice Department is palpable. Foreign visitors will now be fingerprinted and registered when they arrive, in 30 days and at the one year mark. International students are to be tracked to make sure they actually show up and stay in school with a full course load. The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates is planning to limit research fellowships for the most elite medical subspecialties to US citizens. The White House will soon issue an executive order to create the Interagency Panel on Advanced Science Security (IPASS) whose job it shall be to review some 2,000 applications by postdoctoral candidates who want to enroll in programs available only in the United States. Representatives from the FBI, CIA, INS and State will sit with their colleagues from related federal agencies to make sure that the national security is not compromised.

One might wonder why all of this is coming out of the Bush White House at a time when the President is moving ahead on negotiating a broad-based amnesty with Mexico or even as the President seeks permanent restoration of Section 245(i). The answer is that the President views these initiatives purely in a domestic context while the rest of us think of them as immigration policy. Mr. Bush separates in his own mind who should be allowed to come to the United States from what they can do once they arrive. Matching up a willing worker with a willing employer- that is good sense; giving control over visas and immigration to Homeland Security, well that is our front line of defense in the international struggle against terror. From this perspective, support for repeal of employer sanctions and the elimination of consular discretion to fight Al Qaida, or even the retirement of an independent immigration judiciary, are entirely consistent. Immigration for the President ends at the water's edge. In a very real sense, this is a restoration of the mentality that predated IRCA, one symbolized best by the so-called "Johnson Proviso" named in honor of its sponsor, then US Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas. Using this formula, it was illegal for an immigrant to come to the United States without proper papers, but, once here, it was not illegal for an employer to hire this same person.

We should not deceive ourselves as to what is going to happen to adjudications and visa issuance when Tom Ridge takes control. It will be neither easy nor painless. It would be naive to think that the long twilight struggle against terrorism can be fought and won without resorting to strategies that would not be acceptable in more normal times. September 11th has created a new normalcy. Those who argue against the imposition of extreme measures should be reminded of Abraham Lincoln's admonition: "What is the good of a Constitution without a country?" Yet, having said that, it would be equally naive to think that enforcement, however draconian, can do the job by itself.

The exercise of individual liberty cannot exist apart from the maintenance of public order and the preservation of domestic tranquility. This dynamic tension between the celebration of personal freedom and the need for civic cohesiveness has been the most enduring one in our national experience. What has sustained us in all our past conflicts is the creation and nurturing of an economy that, when roaring at full production, served as the essential engine of victory. That is no less true now than it was in the dark days of 1942 when the tides of war were running strongly in favor of the Axis and democracy was in retreat across the globe.

Immigration must be welcomed as never before if America is going to be able to afford the enormous expenditures that the international campaign against terror will doubtless require. Anything which undermines our capacity for economic growth is a direct threat to the life of this Republic. At a time when America is aging, both population growth and the economic expansion that follows in its wake, come primarily from immigrants who come here in the prime of their working lives. This is true not only for the best and the brightest. It is also true for those who do the hard, dirty but necessary toil that must still be done in our information economy.

America must be made safe. All necessary safeguards, up to and including a temporary moratorium on immigration from countries that sponsor terrorism, must be put in place. While we do that, let us expand our absorption of those immigrants with the talent and skill we need to win the war. Immigrants are front line soldiers in the fight that has enlisted us all.

About The Author

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP America Inc. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP America Inc. in any way.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.