The Closing of the American Border

American Border

American Border

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government seemed to put forth a unified stance on the need to combat terror. But you say in your book that there was actually a fierce internal fight between two groups – you call them The Cops versus The Technocrats. Who are they?

Indeed, this fight began the very night of 9/11. Jim Ziglar, who was the head of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at the time, was strongly opposed to what the Ashcroft Justice Department did after 9/11, which was to use immigration laws aggressively as a counter-terrorism tool, to hold people on immigration violations if they believed they had even the slightest connection to terrorism.

There was one faction that said, “Look, we need to use immigration law aggressively as our main tool in the war on terrorism.” Another group of people, most of them under Tom Ridge in the White House, and later the Department of Homeland Security, said, “Look, if we do that, all we’re going to succeed in doing is driving away people that we want and need to come to the United States. We need to be more targeted and intelligent about how we strengthen our border after 9/11.”

You quote George W. Bush saying to his customs chief, “You’ve got to secure our borders against a terror threat, but you have to do it without shutting down the U.S. economy.” How did the ones who were all for using immigration law win out?

The ones who wanted to strengthen border controls intelligently knew what they wanted to do, but it was a long process. You needed to develop new systems to identify more accurately who was coming into the United States and who you had reason to be concerned about.

The people in the Justice Department who wanted to use immigration law didn’t need to wait. Immigration law is an incredibly powerful tool for arresting and detaining any foreigner. One of the officials that I interviewed said, “Immigration law is like tax law – you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

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