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U.S. Immigration Policy since 9/11: Understanding the Stalemate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Reports
August 2011

U.S. Immigration Policy since 9/11: Understanding the Stalemate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In early September 2001, the presidents of the United States and Mexico joined together to announce a new policy framework regarding migration, proposing a sweeping comprehensive immigration reform plan that would increase border security, create a new temporary worker program, and provide legalization to unauthorized immigrants. Just days later, however, the framework was shelved as terrorists struck the United States and security became the dominant focus of immigration policy.

After the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed a series of measures to tighten border security, facilitate data collection and information sharing with respect to international travelers; and broaden the government’s power to detain and deport immigrants.

This report for MPI’s Regional Migration Study Group reviews the history of immigration legislation since 9/11, the new enforcement mandates that arose immediately afterward, and the unsuccessful efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform bills during the 109th and 110th Congresses. The report finds that this history, together with asymmetries in the political process that favor enforcement-oriented responses and the economic downturn, stack the deck against comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system.

Table of Contents 

I. U.S. Immigration Policy in 2001: Demand for Reform, and the Whole Enchilada Framework

II. Response to the 9/11 Attacks

A. Organizational Changes
B. Expanded Enforcement Powers within the United States
C. Visa Security, Immigration, and Border Controls

III. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Debate

IV. Analysis: The Failure of Comprehensive Reform, 2006-10
A. Asymmetries in the Immigration Debate: Enforcement as the Default Immigration Policy
B. Short-Term Political Considerations Have Discouraged Comprehensive Reform Efforts
C. The Difficult Politics of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

V. Conclusion: The Future of Immigration Reform