Border Security and Immigration
The United States has always been a nation of immigrants. The entrepreneurial courage of someone who would leave the country and culture they had always known to take their chances in a new world has greatly shaped the American experience. Our population has grown immensely since our founding, but we still welcome newcomers to our shores. Our commitment to an equal opportunity and equal treatment for all, with no consideration for ethnic background and place of birth, remains strong.
Of course, there are other people, those who would do us harm, who are not so welcome in the United States. Technological developments exercised alongside our own precious freedoms provide a lone actor with malevolent intent the tools required to cause immense devastation to the American homeland. Our law enforcement capabilities are poised to detect and prevent such an act before it could occur, but our resources are necessarily limited. It is much easier and safer to stop such individuals before they even enter our country. Preventing individuals with threatening backgrounds or a blatant disregard for our laws from entering the United States is an important step in preventing further attacks. Equally important is having an accurate record of who is here, for what reasons, and for how long, to assist in law enforcement investigations. This is not a question of keeping out those who are different or reserving the wealth of the United States only for those who are native citizens. A balance must be struck that respects the role of immigrants in our national culture and gives an opportunity at the American dream to as many people as possible, while preventing the entry or continued residence of those who would do us harm or disrupt our system of government.
1. Border Control
The best way to know who enters and exits the United States is through effective control of our borders. The northern and southern borders of the United States include vast expanses of unguarded territory, much with only a small fence to mark the political boundary. Numerous organized criminal groups have sprung up to smuggle people across the border, taking advantage of these unwatched areas or the frequently haphazard inspection policies at official crossings. These organizations not only introduce large numbers of undocumented individuals into the United States, but also contribute to a general climate of lawlessness, especially along the border with Mexico. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the people who take advantage of these border crossing services are all from Mexico and Central America. Residents of all the world's regions have entered America in this way.
Securing the entire border of the United States is an expensive endeavor. It would require large investments of money and manpower. It would cause some changes in everyday American life, such as potential price increases on products and services previously staffed by undocumented workers. However, knowing who is in the United States, for what purpose they are visiting, and where they have previously lived and worked are all essential prerequisites to developing a capacity for preventing access by potential terrorists. A policy that combines secure borders, effective documentation, and generous yet prudent immigration policies will ultimately benefit all residents of the United States.
American immigration laws allow for deportation to be used as a means for removing individuals who are in the United States illegally, who are here legally but violate American laws, or who arrived legally but exceeded the restrictions on visitation set forth by their visas or other regulations. Deportation is an important method through which the United States government identifies and controls who lives within its borders. In practice, however, there are numerous impediments to the effective deportation of foreign citizens in the United States illegally. First, because there is no record of persons who have entered the United States illegally, there is no record against which law enforcement can check documents, many of which are easily forged. Second, unless illegal aliens cross paths with a law enforcement officer for another reason, the proper authorities will simply not even know they exist. Third, many local politicians and law enforcement officials do not encourage their staffs to enforce immigration laws, including deportation, because of the ambiguities of law enforcement in the American federal system. And finally, the limited resources of many law enforcement agencies simply make the identification and treatment of illegal residents simply unfeasible. Money and manpower are directed toward more imminent threats. Other times, law enforcement officers have an interest in preserving contacts within an immigrant community that would be hampered if aggressive deportations were encouraged, placing greater strains on investigation capacities.
3. Visa Control
Prudent visa policies are another important means of controlling immigration and access to the United States. American officials at foreign consulates can determine based upon relevant information whether a specific person should or should not be granted entry to the United States. In making this decision, names are checked against a database of suspected terrorists, or individuals with terrorist connections. Unfortunately, though, this is not a foolproof process. Visa security depends heavily on two conditions. First, if the documentation offered by an individual applying for a visa is falsified, the decision on whether to issue a visa will not be trustworthy. Second, if the information in American databases is not accurate, any subsequent visa determinations based upon that information will also be flawed.
There are other dangers in the visa procedure. Even if an individual has participated in no questionable activities and maintains no dangerous associations, there is still no effective way to assess his intentions after arrival in the United States. Additionally, the United States does not require visas for citizens of many of the world's countries. They are allowed entry with a passport only. So, while visa control is an important tool in regulating access to the United States, it is not foolproof and depends primarily on the accuracy of the information upon which it is based for its ultimate effectiveness.
4. Secure Driver's Licenses
Driver's licenses are essential in the United States for doing many everyday activities, including opening bank accounts, boarding planes, entering office buildings, and using credit cards. Many people assume that the possession of a driver's license indicates authenticity and respectability on the part of the holder. Unfortunately, this is a false sense of security in many ways. Because there is no uniform standard for driver's licenses and identification cards in all fifty states, it is sometimes difficult for a local official to determine whether the person holding the driver's license is who he or she claims to be, particularly if the license if from another state. While many states have introduced tougher standards for issuing driver's licenses and implemented new technology to prevent forgery or tampering, others have refused to change their methods. Many states do not question the authenticity of identifying documents before issuing a driver's license that allows the holder to move about the country unimpeded, as with the 9/11 hijackers. Several states do not even require the applicant to be legally present within the country and will issue driver's licenses to foreign citizens and illegal immigrants. So while driver's licenses are often accepted as sufficient forms of identification for everything from buying alcohol to entering flight school, they frequently issued to individuals without accurate verification of their identity or their legal status as American residents. Without secure driver's licenses, we cannot be certain of anyone's identity and open the door to more terrorist attacks like those of 9/11.