Borderrhetorics Wiki


Days prior to September 11, 2001, US President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox met to discuss their continuous working of a comprehensive migration policy that benefited the populations of both nations. These discussions “showed real promise” and tackled such issues as “regularizing the status of millions of undocumented immigrant workers” and “bringing additional temporary workers…to fill labor shortages through a significantly reformed program”[1]. After 9/11, Bush and Fox’s immigration progress was hopelessly stalled and no longer a national priority.[]

Roots of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment[]

Jan Brewer Steve Breen-Creators Syndicate

The root causes of anti-immigrant sentiment have led to media outbursts on a national scale, like those of Arizona governor Jan Brewer.

The recurring theme seems to be safety,stemming from fears of: safeguarding against changing ways of life, safety from future attacks—safety from people who aren't native and could pose a threat to native-born Americans:

  • "cultural nonassimilation...and bifurcating the United States into two separate cultures"[2] (modifying current US society into something unrecognizable)
  • threatening of traditional values and mores (because immigrants might supplant them with their own)
  • media coverage of immigrant news has become increasingly negative[2] (perpetuating the opinion that immigrants are a detriment to US society)
  • fears of narco-terrorism in Northern Mexico (and that it will spillover into the US)

National Security-Conscious Legislation As a Double-edged Sword[]

Legislation designed to safeguard the US has adversely affected immigrants on three fronts: []

  1. economics (how immigrants are deprived of benefits)
  2. employment (laws and acts that make the employment process difficult)
  3. socio-geographic (how legislation uproots immigrants)

Effects on Personal Economics[]

"Operation Tarmac" (2001)[]

At its most basic, Operation Tarmac “includes employment file audits and criminal background checks of airport employees” [1]. An incident at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas set the size and scope of the act.

More than two dozen employees with security clearances at the airport were “indicted on federal charges ranging from making false statements to use of fraudulent Social Security numbers”[3]. A press release from the US Department of Justice explains that under the program, “agents reviewed the records of approximately 9,000 individuals...who had access to secured areas” and that this “identified approximately 100 individuals for whom additional information was needed to ascertain whether they were properly documented” [3]. In other words, investigation into the backgrounds of the original two dozen criminals led to the investigation of the backgrounds of 9,000 employees—an increase of 37,400%—and in the possible deportation of almost 80—an increase of 216% from the original figure. As such, “Operation Tarmac,” is said to have “augmented a general climate of fear and suspicion among immigrant workers” [4].

Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA-2001)[]

The US government enacted Public Law 107-71, also known as the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), on November 19, 2001, 69 days after September 11th. Under Section 111, standard 2 (A) ii requires all workers “to be a citizen of the United States” [5]. As a result, the ATSA affected airports with heavily immigrant employee workforces, namely through firing employees who held visas or residential cards rather than complete legal citizenship.[]

Legislative Aftermath[]

The dangers inherent in the sweeping powers of Operation Tarmac are readily apparent. In the name of safety, thousands of other airport employees were subjected to background searches, of which 80 or so received subsequent investigation to determine if deportation was merited. Airport workers hired before ATSA were fired based on the new restrictions the act placed on employee hiring practices at US airports.

Effects on Employment[]

SS NoMatch Letter

Employers who receive these letters are bound to inform their respective employees, but sometimes these letters become an excuse for firing workers.

Social Security Administration's "No-Match" Letters (beginning in late 2001)[]

In the past, the government has tracked an employer's workers to verify their qualification for Social Security. However, in the wake of immigration spikes after 9/11 and the widespread practice of firms hiring undocumented workers, the government took to mailing “No-Match” letters when a worker's name and Social Security number did not match the Social Security Administration's (SSA) database[1] in an effort “[to] protect [SSA operations] against fraud, waste, and abuse by conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations, and investigations”[6].

A report compiled by the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General explains that “many suspended items involve the agricultural industry, which has transient employees who may not have work authorizations” as well as “high turnover industries, such as fast food, restaurants and other service industries” [6]. These employment sectors are the same positions that recently-arrived immigrants favor. The “No-Match” campaign too seems a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11, since in the following year in 2002, “the SSA mailed over a million 'No-Match' letters, up from about 70,000 the previous year” [4].

Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board (2002)[]

Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc., sought to exercise the powers that such rulings insinuate and its efforts led to a victory that is listed in the US Supreme Court's archives. Jose Castro, the claimant in the case, attempted to gain employment with the company, but during testimony, he admitted “that he was born in Mexico, that he had never been legally admitted to, or authorized to work in this country, and that he gained employment with petitioner only after tendering a birth certificate belonging to a friend born in Texas” [7]. This knowledge inspired Hoffman Plastics to fire him without any backpay after he attempted to unionize.

The syllabus of the decision reasons that “Federal immigration policy, as expressed by Congress in IRCA [Immigration Reform and Control Act], foreclosed the Board from awarding backpay to an undocumented alien who has never been illegally authorized to work in the United States” [7]. The decision argued that Castro’s illegal status upheld Hoffman Plastics' right to refuse awarding Castro's backpay. The decision, however, carries insidious ramifications for immigrants and their honest employers.

Michele Waslin, manager of the Immigration and the States division for the Pew Charitable Trusts, has vocally addressed the detrimental impact of such legal verdicts. She explains that by "denying a remedy to one group of workers, the Hoffman decision undermines the status of all workers and strengthens employers' incentive to hire unauthorized workers because they can fire these employees when they engage in any activity deemed unfit without suffering legal ramifications"[1]. Waslin also asserts that the verdict "hurts all American workers because it lowers wages, reduces [the quality of] working conditions, and discourages organizing; it also harms law-abiding employers who suffer unfair competition from unscrupulous employers who take advantage of undocumented labor"[1].

Legislative Aftermath[]

Mexican Burger King
Illegal to Pick Up Day Labor

(Top) A marquee announces a restaurant's hiring preferences. (Bottom) The sign reads "illegal to pick up day labor." The Hoffman decision legally and indirectly encourages the practice of "hire and fire."

Legislation threatening employers who contract undocumented workers are rendered toothless in the wake of decisions like Hoffman. Waslin’s assertion that the Hoffman decision encourages exploitation is true and perhaps nowhere more evident than in jobs where workers are paid in cash, like independently-owned restaurants. In a hypothetical situation, a dishwasher may mistakenly alter his/her Social Security number by one digit when reporting to the Social Security Administration, and the restaurant will receive a No-Match letter. The owners can easily fire this employee based on the denial of responsibility inherent in the Hoffman decision: the restaurant owner has no obligation to pay an undocumented worker employed for months and has zero obligation to award that same employee any backpay. Independently-owned businesses, like construction firms, don’t require this documentation, and the practice of “hire and fire” is understandably devastating for undocumented immigrants.

Socio-Geographic Effects on Immigrants[]

Immigration and Nationality Act Section 287 (g) (2002)[]

Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act has proven to be one of the most controversial post-9/11 pieces of legislation drafted. The law “allows state and local police to investigate immigration cases and ultimately make immigration arrests on behalf of federal authorities” [8]. Enacted in June 2002 by Attorney General John Ashcroft [1], Section 287 (g) provides much-needed relief for federal agents in an era of a dearth of immigration policing.

As stated before, the law clarifies that “local police may have the authority to enforce immigration law” [1](Waslin 89). Enabling local law enforcement to monitor and police the legal statuses of largely immigrant populations has greatly extended the reach of the federal government's power regarding to police them, so much so that “once an individual has been identified as deportable, local and state authorities may hold the individual for as long as it takes to process their deportation, as if they were formally in federal custody” [8]. As such, national hot spots have emerged, including 50,000 cases in Arizona, 48,000 cases in California, 18,500 cases in North Carolina, 15,000 cases in Texas and Georgia each, and 8,500 cases in Tennessee [8].

Opponents of Section 287 (g) argue that arbitrary enforcement is one of the major issues with the act. Investigation into the practice of Section 287 (g) has made it apparent that "agencies appear to be using their new found authority to focus on minor infraction and misdemeanor offenders than on serious felony offenders"[8]. This unequal "delegation of power" has arguably led to the profoundest reaction to post-9/11 acts like Section 287 (g)—"insecurity for immigrant populations on the move between the spaces of labour, social reproduction, and leisure"[8]. Waslin explains that the act and others like it send "a clear message that all immigration is to be treated as a national security issue, and that immigrants will be viewed as terrorist threats"[1].

The Return of Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952--Section 265 (a) (2002)[]

If Section 287 (g) creates an atmosphere of anxiety, then the return of Section 265 (a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 perpetuates that same culture of fear. The act itself is more than half a century old and requires non-citizens residing in the US to inform the government of their new address within 10 days of moving [1]. Effects have been devastating at times, as Waslin explains, when Section 287 (g) “subjects millions of Latino immigrants to deportation simply because they were unaware of this rule at the time they moved” [1].

Collateral Damage[]

For most people, demanding that non-citizens promptly report their addresses after a move seems like standard operating procedure. Harry “Skip Brandon, former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence, reasons that Americans are within their rights “to require noncitizens to meet certain standards for entry and standards for remaining in the United States” [9]. However, Section 265 (a) seems to have backfired on the US government. Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., contends that the act inherently delivers collateral damage of the bureaucratic sort: “the Department of Justice announced that the INS would begin to vigorously enforce the change-of-address law. ...However, the hundreds of thousands of change-of-address forms that came flooding in quickly overwhelmed the INS, diverting them from other responsibilities” [9].

There are those, like Waslin who argue that a misallocation of time and resources pales in comparison to the more pressing issues acts like Section 287 (g) and Section 265 (a) exert on immigrants. Vanna Slaughter, director of the Catholic Charities of Dallas, shares a similar sentiment, arguing that these post-9/11 laws billed as security measures "have set in motion a contagion of adverse impacts on immigrants, their families, and on all those who come in contact with them"[4]. However, well-meaning or security-conscious these laws appear on a surface level, they demonstrate a "new atmosphere of increased suspicion" which leads to "an erosion of trust by immigrants"[4].

How Legislation Affects the US-Mexico Border[]

Anti-immmigrant legislation effects

Security-conscious laws enacted since 9/11 have had adverse effects on immigrants.

The safety of the US since 9/11 is a point of contention. In the past years, the US government has clamped down control of the US-Mexico Border because of many factors previously discussed. The chart at the right exhibits the profound effects immigrants face as a result of legislation passed by the US government in an effort to safeguard the nation.

The Future[]

In a climate where the government is on constant alert for the next security threat, there seems to be little movement to stop the slew of this sort of legislation. Supporters of national defense-minded legislation argue that the country is safer and that the government's success stories in preventing terrorism go unnoticed because of their classified nature. Detractors couch their arguments in the context of human rights issues, claiming that laws and acts like these make it close to impossible to live for immigrants to live in the United States. Only time will tell if federal guidelines will become more stringent or lax in their harsh treatment of immigrants, legal or illegal, and how these laws relate to national security.

Works Cited/References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Waslin, Michele. "Counterterrorism and the Latino Community Since September 11th." In Defense of the Alien 26 (2003): 83-99. JSTOR. Web. 29 June 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Branton, Regina, et. Al. “All Along the Watchtower: Acculturation Fear, Anti-Latino Affect, and Immigration.” The Journal of Politics 73.3 (2011): 664-679. JSTOR. Web. 8 July 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 United States Dept. of Justice. “Joint Law Enforcement Investigation Promotes Airport Security.” Las Vegas: U.S. Department of Justice, 6 Feb 2002. Web.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Slaughter, Vanna. “Refugee Issues After 9/11.” In Defense of the Alien 26: 174-178. JSTOR. Web. 29 June 1014.
  5. United States Cong. Public Law 107-71, 19 Nov. 2001. PDF file. Web. 10 July 2014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 United States Office of the Inspector General. Status of the Social Security Administration's Earnings Suspense File, 2002. PDF file. Web. 11 July 2014.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board. 535 United States Supreme Court. 27 March 2002. 1-3 Web.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Coleman, Mathew and Austin Kocher. “Detention, deportation, devolution and immigrant incapacitation in the US, post 9/11.” The Geographical Journal. 177.3 (2011): 228-237. JSTOR. Web. 3 July 2014.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kerwin, Brandon, Cannistraro, and Angela Kelly. “Immigration Policy, Law Enforcement and National Security.” In Defense of the Alien 26: 3-34. JSTOR. Web. 29 June 2014.