Terror attacks prompt proposals for tighter immigration laws

Amy Hackbarth

Immigration lawyer Laura Danielson’s clients have been living in fear the past two weeks after witnessing discrimination and hearing tales of foreigners being beaten and murdered.

“I have a lot of clients who are really afraid,” said Danielson, also a University Law School adjunct professor. “They don’t know if they should go home and they feel like people don’t want them here.”

U.S. immigrants like Danielson’s clients might be in for a difficult time in the next few months as the public and the government react to the Sept. 11 attacks.

A violent public reaction is typical following an attack, Danielson said. She mentioned similar reactions after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

“In an incident like this, the public always responds with fear. If there are any non-citizens involved, people blame immigration policies,” Danielson said.

Congress responded to the attacks with new proposals to strengthen the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s authority.

And these plans are quite different than legislation proposed before the attacks, said Sam Myers, an immigration lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Prior to the attacks, Myers said, Congress focused on reorganizing the INS and repealing harsher immigration laws.

Congress also considered granting legal status to skilled and unskilled aliens currently working in the country and creating an amnesty for Hispanics living in the United States.

While continuing to concentrate on INS reorganization, Congress now is focusing on enforcing immigration laws and allowing the government to monitor immigrants living in the country.

“The attacks have radically taken away from many issues Congress was covering,” Myers said. “Virtually any legislation that has to do with amnesty or repealing laws is on the back burner now.”

One of President George W. Bush’s proposals could give the INS authority to detain immigrants it suspects of participating in terrorist organizations.

Another proposal involves creating a database of international students living in the United States.

Foreigners in the United States with student visas – academic or vocational – are not usually monitored aggressively, Myers said. That could change after the attacks.

“Most or all of the suspected terrorists in the attacks were in on student visas,” he said. “While students aren’t followed heavily now, I expect that to change.”

New regulations allow the INS to detain aliens for 48 hours before issuing arrest warrants. Previously, the INS could detain aliens for 24 hours.

While Danielson said she understands the need for increased INS regulation, she fears the government and public response might be too severe.

“It’s always frightening to think about World War II and what happened to the Japanese-Americans living in the United States,” she said. “We’d hate to recreate that.”

 

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]