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Bloggings: Obama finally got Osama. Does this mean anything for immigration? Roger Algase

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As ID points out in its May 2 editorial, the name of Osama bin Laden, among many other things, will forever be associated with the beginning of a decade of legal hardship, bordering on outright persecution, for millions of foreign born people in America. But did the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (which, according to most estimates, killed some 500 immigrants at the World Trade Center alone) suddenly change a country which once welcomed immigrants into one which now regards them with hostility and suspicion? This question can be answered in one word: IIRIRA.


As everyone connected with immigration remembers, or should remember, IIRIRA, which among many other provisions that are unfriendly to immigrants, made the phrases "unlawful presence" and "aggravated felony" dreaded household words, was passed in late September, 1996, almost exactly five years before the 9/11 attacks. Certainly, at that time the possibility of domestic terror attacks was an issue, but only one of many, and no one seriously argued that this was the main reason for passing IIRIRA. This momentous anti-immigrant law was rushed through a Republican Congress in the dead of night without any discussion or debate, and was attached to a "must pass" military appropriations bill, only a little over a month before that year's presidential election. President Clinton had no choice except to sign it, or at least so it seemed.


IIRIRA was also not a reaction to any economic crisis. The economy had emerged from recession and was doing relatively well at that time. This law was instead motivated by a "backlash", as numerous media reports explained, against 30 years of immigration from every part of the world, not just northern and western Europe.  The mantra among anti-immigrant demagogues in the 1990's was not "terror" or "jobs", but "culture", which is nothing but a euphemism for race.  


There was widespread dissatisfaction in some quarters with the progress that America had made in allowing immigrants from East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa to become part of our society ever since the restrictive quotas against people from those areas enacted in 1924 were abolished in 1965. There was also, of course, intense feeling against the rapidly growing number of immigrants from Mexico and the rest of  Latin America, even though the Western Hemisphere had not been affected by the 1924 quota restrictions.  


On September 11, 2001,  Osama Bin Laden gave the anti-immigrant restrictionists the pretext they had been looking for.  For the next six or or seven years. the "War on Terror" became the excuse for every imaginable piece of anti-immigrant legislation or activity at every level of government, from attempts to impose English only laws and restrictions against drivers licenses for unauthorized immigrants, to increased workplace raids and an epidemic, which has now turned into a pandemic,  of RFE's and denial notices for qualified people seeking legal visas or green cards.


Now that, to paraphrase President Obama, justice has finally caught up with Bin Laden, the media, which initally accurately reported that his demise was mainly symbolic, have since gone into a frenzy of triumphalism by writing obituaries not only for Bin Laden, but of for the entire "War on Terror".  But for immigrants, American restrictionism has moved on. Since 2008, if not earlier, the anti-immigrant mantra has beeen not terror, but jobs.  If and when the economy recovers it will undoubtedly be something else.  A Polish immigrant once told me that there was a saying in his country: "someone who wants to beat a dog can always find a stick".

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  1. Matthew Kolken's Avatar
    This President is more interested in creating photo-ops to garner votes for his reelection than figuring out a way to craft bi-partisan legislation that will infuse some equity into our beyond broken immigration laws, which as you pointed out were signed into law by the last Democrat in office. At least the last President, a Republican of all things, actually tried to do something to reform the immigration law.

    At a minimum I expect, no I demand, that this President put an end to his own administration's draconian deportation quotas.

    Hail to the Deporter in Chief.
  2. Roger Algase's Avatar
    This is all too true. We should also be careful what we wish for when we talk about immigration reform. The bipartisan "compromise" reform bill which was defeated in the Senate in 2007 would have been a monstrosity. It would have severely cut family immigration quotas and abolished employment-based immigration as we know it, to replace it with an elitist point system, among other things. It was so terrible that I actually phoned a few Senate offices to urge a vote against it. One of the offices I called was that of a first term Senator from Illinois. But Senator Obama voted for the bill anyway. I doubt that he or almost anyone else had the faintest idea what was in it.
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