12:05 p.m. Edward Alden, Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, is delivering a talk today at the Humphrey Institute entitled, “Security and Immigration in a post-9/11 United States. Alden is the author of the recent book, The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11.

12:10 p.m. Alden says 20 years ago Alden says the U.S. did have a porous border, and even 10 years ago it was still largely porous, although there had been some crackdown on the southern border. But now, he believes, critics like Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs are simply wrong: the U.S., he says, is now both keeping people out that should be kept out, as well as those we should let in, such as many professionals.

12:13 p.m. Alden gives the example of a renowned surgeon from Pakistan who had done his years of training in the U.S. The surgeon had to go back to Pakistan to wait for a work visa to accept a position at UCLA, in 2002, and had to wait more than 9 months to get such a visa.

12:18 p.m. How did the U.S. come to its current post-9/11 customs and visa policies? Alden explains how the targeting of drug smugglers by the U.S. Customs service through information provided by U.S. airlines. Customs had access to both foreign and domestic flights, but rarely looked at domestic flight data, as it was considered legally questionable. It was through this information that the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were identified – not by the FBI or CIA. This led to a series of initiatives – such as fingerprinting of those arriving into the U.S. (unless coming from Canada or Mexico). The theory is that better information is the best defense against terrorism. The second development that occurred after 9/11, in light of the fact that several 9/11 hijackers had been pulled over by local law enforcement officials while they were out of status (in the country illegally). The idea thereafter was to use U.S. immigration laws to as effectively as possible to share information between agencies.

12:29 p.m. After 9/11 Alden says approximately 1,000 Muslim men were arrested on ‘technical’ immigration violations and held sometimes for years. Alden claims many of these apprehended foreigners were beaten in jails, and none of them were found to be terrorists.

12:32 p.m. As a result of these new policies, Alden says universities from across the country began to feel the effect of the delays in the processing of student and work visas by the fall of 2002. Alden says in order to keep out a few people that may do the U.S. harm, the U.S. kept out thousands that would have contributed to our nation.

12:35 p.m. Alden does not give data, thus far, as to the thousands of foreigners to whom the United States has issues visas, and are studying and working in the nation after 9/11.

12:40 p.m. The default position of the Department of Homeland Security is to see U.S. borders as the primary way to defend the United States against threats and attacks, even if it inconveniences innocent people in the process.

12:42 p.m. Alden says a society as open as the United States, with borders as large and as unguarded as this nation, cannot use the border as the primary means to defend itself against all of the serious threats the Department of Homeland Security wishes to guard against (terrorists, drug smugglers, illegal immigrants etc.).

12:45 p.m. Alden summarizes that by keeping out bad people, America is keeping out good people. Alden does not demonstrate evidence, however, that America is, in fact, keeping out the ‘bad people.’

12:57 p.m. Alden says there have been “atrocious violations” in basic human rights and American values in how the U.S. has treated foreigners, such as frequently incarcerated asylum seekers and their families as they wait for their cases to be adjudicated.

1:01 p.m. Alden says there are three reasons there have not been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. First, there is not a home-grown terrorist threat, like there is in Europe. Secondly, al Queda is probably holding out for a larger terrorist attack. Thirdly, Alden attributes the measures instituted by the U.S. government as really making a difference (e.g. terrorist watch lists, document security measures) in preventing attacks.

1:08 p.m. Alden says prior to 9/11 there was a ‘clock’ for U.S. agencies to reject or raise a red flag to prevent an applicant to come into the country (of 30 or 60 days), and, if no objection was raised, the State Department cleared them. After 9/11, this clock was suspended, and agencies have had unlimited time ever since to approve or deny their visa requests.

1:21 p.m. Alden admits there are no silver bullets in his book. In terms of looking to other nations for best practices, Alden says the U.S. has learned some from Australia, but has also pioneered many of its security practices (e.g. fingerprinting foreigners). In general, however, Alden believes that, in general, other countries, such as Germany and Japan, have done better in facilitating both security and openness in their policies.


  1. Rory from www.getyourgreencardstatus.com on March 19, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I think Alden makes a good point in needing to find a balance between security and openness. Genuine skills should not be allowed to be lost to the US because of an need to over secure.

  2. Immigration Road on April 14, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Very interesting talk. Is there any way to obtain a full transcript?

    The situation is getting better nowadays, actually. A couple years ago it was common to hear of people, Ph.D. students for example, who got stuck outside the U.S. for many months because of security checks. Most times it wasn’t because their backgrounds were so complicated, rather how long it took for the agencies to open their cases for investigation. For this reason foreign students and workers were reluctant to attend conferences or visit families, fearing their return visas would be delayed. It still happens today, but less often.

  3. Immigration Attorney on June 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    The U.S. became a leader in innovation and science due to many professionals and scientist that were lured for the chance of a better life. During this economic downturn, many have adopted the philosophy of limiting the amount of foreigners in the work place and the intellectual community in an effort to advance those locally. If the U.S. is to continue its role as a leader in science, arts, economy and health, it will need the best minds from around the world.

    As it is many students are being deterred due to lack of employment or visas. The U.S. needs to adopt an approach that will encourage the world’s best minds, athletes and artists so that the U.S. can continue its development and role.

  4. San Diego immigration attorney on November 2, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Great discussion. I’d like access to a full transcript as well. I especially like the notes on how post 911 securities are pretty much torpedoing the US’s ability to find and recruit qualified professional to fill H-1B work visas.

    There are literally companies here in San Diego that have had to shut their doors due to their inability to recruit qualified foreign workers for highly skilled jobs. It’s truly a travesty and this long-promised immigration reform by Obama is no where to be seen.

    It’s not a great time to be an immigrant looking to naturalize here in the US. Nor is it a good time to be an immigration attorney regardless of the market.

  5. Lydia Williams on November 19, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I also agree that things are not walking in a positive direction regarding immigrants. True development in any field is only possible with gifted people and resources. Cutting the supply of foreign minds can have a real detriment in the long run.

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