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U.S. Immigration Law Wielded as Powerful Stick in Vast Terror Sweep

Author: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow
January 8, 2009
The Vancouver Sun


The Canadian government says it bears no responsibility for what happened to Benamar Benatta in a New York jail after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. government says that its top officials--who were acting in the name of national security--are not accountable for the abuses suffered by Benatta and hundreds of other Muslim men. But who, then, is to blame for the nearly five years that Benatta, a young Algerian who had sought asylum in Canada, spent in U.S. jails charged with nothing more than a routine immigration violation?

George W. Bush came to office as the most pro-immigrant president in modern U.S. history--one who snubbed the traditional first trip to Canada because his top foreign policy priority was to negotiate a migration pact with Mexico. Yet he presided over a war on terrorism that, as liberal legal scholar David Cole puts it, "has been waged largely through anti-immigrant measures." It began the night of 9/11, and it was Benatta's misfortune that Canadian officials, betraying Canada's own traditions, handed him over to the U.S. the very next morning.

Within hours of the crumbling of the twin towers, the United States had largely closed its land borders with Canada and Mexico and had shut off its airspace in an effort to seal the country against the threat of another wave of attackers from abroad. But to Bush administration officials, there seemed a graver danger: That more terrorists were already inside the country waiting to strike.


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