Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more than 500 terrorism cases, yet there remains scant public understanding of what these federal cases have actually looked like and the impact they have had on communities and families. Published by The Nation in collaboration with Educators for Civil Liberties, the America After 9/11 series features contributions from scholars, researchers and advocates to provide a systematic look at the patterns of civil rights abuses in the United States’ domestic “war on terror.”
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On March 13, President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review its deportation practices, acknowledging the toll that record-high deportation rates are taking on local communities. A White House statement issued later that day read, “The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
The President’s pledge came in response to growing pressure from immigrant rights advocates and progressive Democrats outraged by the Obama administration’s five-year deportation spree. Since taking the oath of office, Obama has deported immigrants at a faster rate than any other president in US history, nearly a record 2 million people. On a typical day, there are over 30,000 immigrants imprisoned in the world’s largest immigration detention system. Most deportees never see an attorney or have a hearing before a judge before they are expelled from the country. Deportation carries a high price for families and communities across America: one-quarter of all deportees are separated from their US citizen children and countless others from spouses and other family members.
Obama’s claim to sympathize with immigrant families’ “pain” obscures a troubling fact: while the review he ordered may lead to more “humane” treatment of some undocumented immigrants—a welcome if still-modest outcome—it will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who get snared each year in the nation’s thickening national security and criminal enforcement webs. And these immigrants represent the majority of persons deported during the Obama era.
For the last twenty-five years, and particularly since the start of the “War on Terror,” immigration has become increasingly tangled with criminal enforcement and national security. George W. Bush cemented the relationship in 2003 when he folded the Immigration and Naturalization Service into a mammoth new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, which was charged with overseeing both counterterrorism and immigration enforcement. The message was obvious: immigration was a threat to the country, and thus, immigration authorities had become an arm of the national security apparatus. Since then, the government has crafted a range of policies and programs targeting the “criminal aliens” in our midst, boosting funding for these programs from $23 million a year to $690 million a year between 2004 and 2011. No group has been exempt, but Latino, Afro-Caribbean and Muslim immigrants have suffered some of the most stringent enforcement, reflecting the racial profiling to which these populations are subject in the criminal justice, immigration and national security systems.