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Alden on U.S. Immigration Clampdown Post-9/11

Interviewee: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, CFR
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Deputy Editor, CFR.org
September 17, 2008

The 9/11 attacks triggered policy changes across the U.S. government. Few areas experienced as much turmoil as the immigration system. CFR Senior Fellow Edward Alden, whose new book argues U.S. efforts to strengthen borders and prevent terrorist attacks have been flawed and sometimes counterproductive, tells CFR.org that much remains to be done policywise. Before the 9/11 attacks, Alden says, the United States had an immigration system that was unable to track people in the country in violation of their visa requirements. But in the wake of the attacks, he argues, numerous mistakes have been made in an attempt to overhaul U.S. immigration policy.

Alden argues that a decision by U.S. Justice Department officials to use immigration laws aggressively swept up a number of innocent, or relatively harmless people with minor immigration violations. "From the perspective of the administration, what was good about that was you could arrest these people, you could put them into detention, you could question them and there was no one who could compel you to release them until you had satisfied yourself that they didn't pose a danger to the country," he says. "The problem is we didn't really find any terrorists that way."

Alden describes what he says is an unhelpful role by Congress since 9/11 in pressing for tougher immigration security measures like building a border fence, without addressing larger problems influencing the causes of illegal immigration. The next U.S. president, he says, faces difficult options for immigration system reforms.

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