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Within sight of the remains of the World Trade Center, Lady Liberty stands tall, seemingly impervious to the devastation wrought by last week’s terrorist attacks. A beacon of freedom welcoming immigrants for several generations, the statue was unscathed. But U.S. immigration laws and border controls have come under fire as too lax to deal with the realities of modern-day terrorists. Reports say several of the terrorists entered from Canada, and there are investigations into whether some of the terrorists or their co-conspirators entered the United States on visas, or while applying for asylum. “It certainly has the capacity to change the debate,” says Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that pushes for tougher immigration standards and borders. “Tuesday’s attacks were obviously a failure of intelligence and airport security, but also of border control,” adds Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that also advocates reduced immigration. “There is no such thing as a hermetically sealed border. But we are talking about several dozen people who came through. If we could have apprehended just a few of them at the border, it would have given at the least the potential to help the FBI unravel this conspiracy.” Many in the immigration arena are preaching caution and reason. Immigration advocates, who have long wanted more open immigration regulations, worry that cracking down on borders and immigration rules will do little to stop terrorists and, instead, will lead to miscarriages of justice and violations of the civil liberties of foreign visitors and people trying to immigrate. “When you want to prevent terrorism, you take steps to prevent terrorism,” says Jana Mason, a policy analyst with Immigration and Refugee Services of America. “That doesn’t mean no one should be allowed in the United States.” Others are worried that the government may react hastily and rashly as it did in the midst of World War II, when it rounded up and interned tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans, and later, during the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s, when it placed special restrictions on Iranian students trying to enter the country. “Our priority is to protect our people and to make people aware that we are Americans and that we should not be blamed for the madmen and criminals who have committed this horrible act,” says Hala Maksoud, a board member on the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “We are bracing ourselves for the consequences in the long run in terms of laws that might be enacted. I really believe that we are way beyond what happened when the Japanese-Americans were interned in the ’40s. Things have changed since the ’40s. But we are going to be facing discrimination for a long time. Our names give us away. Our looks give us away.” BORDERED UP Border security is expected to tighten, especially along the northern line with Canada, and visa checks and asylum standards may be changed. But immigration advocates say that even if some changes may be needed, the United States should worry about changing too much, too fast, too permanently. “We will bump against the reality that there are trade-offs,” says David Martin, a professor at the University of Virginia and an expert on immigration issues who has served as general counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. “I am worried about an overreaction. We had some very poor and poorly thought out measures after Oklahoma City. As part of that legislation, it changed immigration laws. Some of that tightening up was worthwhile, but a lot was poorly designed and an overreaction. I hope we won’t see that kind of a move here.” In recent years, immigration law was appearing to move toward fewer, not more, restrictions. After the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Congress in 1996 passed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Both measures cracked down on immigration — expanding the government’s power of deportation and limiting the rights of those seeking to enter the country. They went so far as to deny hearings and administrative and judicial review to certain immigrants. In the intervening years, those measures have been softened, most notably in two Supreme Court decisions earlier this year that ruled that certain detained deportees and immigrants had more rights than U.S. immigration law was granting. Immigration advocates were hopeful Congress would change the 1996 laws even more. Indeed, the mood of government and the country has been more open. Only two weeks ago, President George W. Bush and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox talked of tearing down walls and opening borders between the two countries. But suddenly the concepts of borders and barriers have taken on a new significance. Immigration experts are expecting immediate changes to some of the country’s immigration laws, and other changes that seemed possible will not materialize in the near future. Many predict more patrols and monitoring of U.S. borders, especially along the line with Canada. Until now, much of the government’s efforts has been along the southern border with Mexico to prevent drug smuggling or illegal immigrants. But with evidence that some of the terrorists entered through Canada, many expect the northern border will get more attention and more police power. Canada’s asylum policies and immigration policies have been criticized as too lax by some in the U.S. national security and immigration arenas. The U.S. government is expected to put more pressure on Canada to tighten up its policies, to prevent terrorists from using our northern neighbor as a staging ground or conduit. Legislation in Congress that would prevent the government from using secret evidence in immigration proceedings is sure to be shelved, at least for this year, many predict. Currently, the U.S. government can use classified information against a potential deportee, but the accused is not allowed to see the information against him, and therefore cannot defend against the charges. Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., had been leading a charge to ban the government from using such information, calling it “an infringement on an individual’s civil liberties.” Asylum and deportation procedures are also expected to come under heavy scrutiny. Many of these practices were overhauled in 1996, speeding deportation and making it easier to jail noncitizens for extensive periods of time. Some are predicting that those rules will be tightened even more. And the INS will almost certainly be questioned by Congress about creating a tracking system for the border. Congress requested in 1996 that the INS create an extensive electronic system for monitoring border entries and exits. Such a system would provide a clear record of whether visitors or visa holders had overstayed their time, but the INS has not been able to design or implement one. Many also expect Congress and the federal government to examine information sharing and communication between the INS and other government agencies. The goal of such an effort would be to ensure that the INS is kept apprised of individuals that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency are concerned about. The debate centers on whether changing immigration or border rules will actually prevent terrorists from entering the country. Detaining immigrants or monitoring the entrance or exit of visa holders may do very little without intelligence about whether certain visitors are in fact terrorists or linked to terrorists. That is information the INS cannot provide or collect, but must rely on other agencies to provide to it. Those in favor of immigration control say these steps are necessary. “Would you rather have to turn airports or public places into armed camps, or would you rather improve our perimeter controls?” asks Stein of FAIR. But there are significant concerns about going too far in an attempt to solve whatever security problems do exist. “At least in the Senate, we will try to have very measured hearings on this,” says an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We have to be careful not to overreact while taking measures that we have to take to tighten up the system.” The House had a hearing scheduled last week on reforming the INS. That has been moved to this Saturday, although committee members are not yet discussing how the Sept. 11 attacks may have altered that discussion.

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