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After the attacks of 2001, the United States overhauled its immigration policy. The entry and stay of foreigners is strictly controlled and the number of expulsions has skyrocketed. In the name of national security, a strong policy of surveillance and control has been put in place – a policy which, for many, creates discrimination and reduces freedoms.

In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush administration launched a “war on terror” which led the United States to engage in two wars: one in Afghanistan, from October 2001, and the other in Iraq, from of March 2003.

On the home front, the “Homeland Security Act” was adopted by an overwhelming majority of Congress in November 2002. With this law on internal security, immigration to the United States became a security issue. The “bad” immigrants will now be hunted down and deported.

With the help of this legislative arsenal, the government created a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which brought together several existing administrations and obtained extensive powers in matters of territory surveillance and arrests.

>> To read also: “September 11: from Manhattan to Brooklyn, memories of a day in hell”

The objective is of course to identify any potential terrorist threat. In fact, this reform allows American police forces to worry anyone, anywhere in the United States, especially at its borders.

To enter the United States, you now need either a visa or an entry authorization (ESTA, electronic travel authorization system managed by DHS and compulsory since 2009). This measure applies to tourists as well as transit passengers.

Restrict and control immigration

The Homeland Security Act also targets the millions of undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States. “With the creation of the DHS, the country’s security forces changed their size in order to increase their capacity to arrest and deport more and more people,” said Mizue Aizeki, deputy director of the NGO Immigrant Defense Project. Defense of Immigrants), a team of lawyers based in New York that defends the rights of foreigners facing deportation.

In 2003, the creation of a “super” immigration police called ICE (for “Immigration and Customs Enforcement”) brought the United States into a new dimension. The mission of the ICE is not to monitor the borders but to track down undocumented immigrants everywhere in the territory. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of alien deportations doubled in the United States, from 211,000 to 432,000 deportations each year. Some 95% of these expulsions concern Latinos from Mexico and Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, etc.)

In 20 years, the number of foreigners deported from the United States has more than doubled. © Graphic studio France Médias Monde

The overhaul of the American security apparatus in 2002 “was made possible by the shock caused by the attacks and made it possible to release exceptional funding to create the system we know today. all the police forces in the service of immigration control policy “, affirms the defender of foreigners.

When a local police officer notices a traffic violation or other minor offense, the offender can now be handed over to the ICE if he has no papers and quickly find himself caught in the “eviction pipeline”.

Track aliens like terrorists

Since 2002, no American administration has questioned this system developed under the presidency of George W. Bush (2000-2008). Under the Obama era (2008-2016), a provision allowing fingerprints collected by the police and in prisons to be transmitted to the ICE resulted in the deportation of at least 500,000 foreigners.

Mizue Aizeki explains that the new immigration control policy uses counterterrorism techniques developed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It uses facial recognition techniques and the use of biometric data (fingerprints, iris scanning, DNA samples).

To flush out illegal aliens, the immigration services now use military equipment. In 2019, an ICE brigade intervened in a street in Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs, with an armored vehicle. In 2020, an ICE policeman was filmed in the Bronx armed with an automatic rifle.

Genia Blaser, lawyer for the NGO Immigrant Defense Project, reports for her part of the cases of parents arrested by the ICE after dropping their children off at school or when they came back from the laundromat. The immigration control agency is also known for its spectacular raids on the workplaces of people it arrests.

These practices gave birth in 2018 to “Abolish ICE” (“remove the ICE”), a campaign supported by the American left and in particular by the New York elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Since the election of Joe Biden, the operations carried out by the ICE have been reduced. “We note that these practices which often lead to the separation of families still take place. But they are more discreet whereas under President Donald Trump, they were much more visible.”

Security obsession and discrimination

This policy of strict, methodical and sometimes brutal immigration control has created situations that many consider inhuman. Twenty years after the attacks of September 11, it also generates discriminatory practices vis-à-vis American citizens of Arab origin or of Muslim faith. Faced with an all-powerful police force and opaque methods, some now feel assimilated to strangers.

Ali is 35 years old. Born in the United States of Lebanese parents, this computer engineer sometimes wonders if he is really an American like the others. Every time he gets on a plane, his distinctly Arabic-sounding first and last name plays tricks on him. “Since I was 18, every time I have to go through a security check, I have been systematically searched and questioned. Random checks always fall on me.”

A few years ago, Ali traveled to South Carolina as part of his professional activities. When taking the plane back to California where he resides, he is unable to finalize his check-in at an automatic kiosk.

Twenty years after 9/11, the United States transformed into a security fortress
Ali did not want his last name to be mentioned in this article. © DR

He then goes to the counter of the airline. The employee asks her for ID to check in and says, “It’s strange, you are on a passenger watch list.” Without being able to tell him the reason.

For Ali, it’s a shock. Born in the United States, the young engineer does not understand why his name is on a special list and takes steps with DHS. For months now, he had been surprised not to be able to register online.

After months of insistence, he received no formal response, but found that he could check in again without having to report to an airline agent. However, “at airports, random checks always, always, always on me!”, He assures us.

>> To read also: “Twenty years after September 11, the wounds of American Arabs”

Naheed Samadi Bahram was born in Afghanistan. Director of a New York organization supporting Afghan women, she describes similar experiences. Resident since 2006, recently naturalized, she says that each time she returns to the United States after a stay abroad, she is systematically questioned in an office and treated differently from other passengers.

Twenty years after 9/11, the United States transformed into a security fortress
Naheed Samadi Bahram, director of an association to help Afghan women, in her office in the Queens neighborhood of New York on September 8, 2021. © Colin Kinniburgh, France 24

“I am a Muslim and I do not cover my hair. I have lived in the United States for 15 years and have always had the same address, I have always had a job, I have never hidden anything from the authorities. And yet, because I am Afghan and I was a refugee in Pakistan, I am entitled to different treatment from other American citizens. “

The decline in freedoms

In the United States, many denounce a phenomenon of “criminalization” of immigration and Mizue Aizeki, deputy director of the NGO Immigrant Defense Project, believes that “it is possible to return to a world where the ICE and the Internal security law would not exist. Twenty years ago, no one could have imagined that immigration officers would come to arrest, gun in hand, people coming out of a laundromat. “

His organization is campaigning for the fight against terrorism, “the war on terror” initiated by George W. Bush, to stop being used to give unlimited powers to the police force. “By making national security and the fight against terrorism the priority of all policies, the government has restricted our individual freedoms.”


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