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The Closing of the American Border

Author: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow
October 12, 2008
New America Media


Editor's Note: The war on terror has come home to America. But when did the war on terror morph into a war on illegal immigration? Today it is much harder for a terrorist to enter the United States than it used to be, but according to Edward Alden, it's also much harder for everyone else. Edward Alden is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11." Alden was interviewed by New America Media editor Sandip Roy.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government seemed to put forth a unified stance on the need to combat terror. But you say in your book that there was actually a fierce internal fight between two groups - you call them The Cops versus The Technocrats. Who are they?

Indeed, this fight began the very night of 9/11. Jim Ziegler, who was the head of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at the time, was strongly opposed to what the Ashcroft Justice Department did after 9/11, which was to use immigration laws aggressively as a counter-terrorism tool, to hold people on immigration violations if they believed they had even the slightest connection to terrorism.

There was one faction that said, ‘Look, we need to use immigration law aggressively as our main tool in the war on terrorism.' Another group of people, most of them under Tom Ridge in the White House, and later the Department of Homeland Security, said, ‘Look, if we do that, all we're going to succeed in doing is driving away people that we want and need to come to the United States. We need to be more targeted and intelligent about how we strengthen our border after 9/11.'

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