From the moment the first plane hit the North Tower, the immigration system in the United States was destined to change.
The attacks on September 11, 2001 certainly didn't start the country's immigration debate, but it did alter the course of the discussion.
Immigration was already a staple of the nightly news through the 1990s into the 2000s. After a series of free trade agreements realigned economies in Mexico and Central America, millions of migrants headed to northern Mexico and the U.S. looking for work. Suddenly, securing the U.S.-Mexico border –- what had once been as diaphanous as the line between New York and New Jersey -– became a national priority.
Still, prior to 9/11, President George W. Bush could best be described as an immigration moderate. Many expected Bush, who routinely and proudly spoke Spanish to his constituency, to pass some type of immigration reform. In the Senate, he had a strong ally in Arizona Republican John McCain, who would later cosponsor a reform bill with Democrat Ted Kennedy.
But instead of embracing immigration reform, the country found itself contracting in the decade after the terrorist attacks, according to David Burnham, the co-director of Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), an organization that gathers government data.
"After 9/11, the Bush administration tried to see immigration enforcement as a way to fight terrorism," Burnham said. "And it's just not."
While immigration policy has certainly differed during the Bush and Obama presidencies, I decided to take a look at some of the most significant changes to the immigration system since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Obviously this is a topic that could fill up volumes, but we can at least touch on the major themes here.
In 2002, President Bush passed the Homeland Security Act, creating an umbrella entity charged with keeping the U.S. safe from future terrorist attacks. The new department would oversee a range of agencies, including those dealing with immigration — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB).
With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security came an avalanche of federal funding. Last year, a pair of economists estimated that the creation of Homeland Security cost the U.S. $589 billion from 2001-2011.
Immigration enforcement increased dramatically after September 11. Immigrant removals — including deportations and so-called voluntary departures — went from roughly 200,000 people in 2001 to nearly double that in 2011.
One reason for the increase in deportations is the growth in the undocumented population, according to Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. But another is the increased spending on border security.
"A lot of it is super-funding of enforcement activities," Hong says. "[Customs and Border Protection's] budget is almost $12 billion; that's an enormous amount of resources."
Despite increased spending, unauthorized immigration continued over the span of the decade, with the undocumented population rising from an estimated 8.5 million in 2000 to nearly 12 million in 2008.
Deportations have doubled in the last decade, but criminal deportations have increased at a much higher clip.