Issue 7, January 2009
|Migration, Security, and Counterterrorism|
The impact of immigration on homeland security in the “Age of Terror,” particularly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, is a topic of much debate. Some domestic terrorism has been linked to migrants or foreign nationals in countries all over the world for some time, an obvious example being IRA attacks in England during the 1980s.
These events are differentiated from acts of war because the targets are civilians, and the perpetrators’ goal is to undermine civilian morale in order to alter some aspect of the host country’s policies. Domestic terrorists have often been migrants, or naturalized or second generation immigrant citizens of their target countries.
The rise of Islamic jihad against Western targets, typically wealthy, democratic countries of destination for immigrants, has caused an attitudinal shift in these countries. The US, UK and France have set about not only strengthening their borders, but also monitoring Muslim immigrant populations closely. Counterterrorism and homeland security concerns have come to heavily impact immigration policy. From no-fly lists to rigorous background checks to electronic surveillance, countries that were already beginning to restrict immigration through formal and procedural channels became even less welcoming. As we saw in the Restrictions section, these moves unleashed robust domestic debates at home and worldwide about civil liberties and human rights.
Many experts have raised an alarm about the confluence of counterterrorism and immigration policymaking. Overt profiling and discrimination and layers of bureaucratic red tape required of selected visitors and not others may actually be fueling the threat. George Packer writes, “We should try to avoid reminding visitors of the reasons they were happy to get away from home in the first place…someone should tell the (US) Department of Homeland Security that we need all the friends and admirers we can get.”
In this view, stricter measures reflect badly on host countries, harming public diplomacy and contributing to future violence. Others cite concern that valuable immigrant talent may be kept out along with potential terrorists, leading to economic decline and loss of global competitiveness among current host nations.
Others argue differently. Border control and homeland security are linked in this view: the benefits of restrictive immigration policies outweigh the costs if they keep out the next disciple of Al Qaeda. Further radicalization of immigrant communities already living in host countries is seen as an unfortunate byproduct of targeted immigration and homeland security policies, and the purview of domestic intelligence and law enforcement bodies. However you come down on this debate, the fact remains that notions of “insider” and “outsider” have become supercharged in the 21st Century, complicating notions of universal human rights and sovereign states.