September 11, 2001September 11, or 9/11, is used almost universally to identify collectively the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the World Trade Center in New York City. Almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, including more than 300 firefighters. The 19 hijackers of four airplanes belonged to an Islamic terror network, al- Qaeda, headed by a wealthy Saudi, Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s group was headquartered in Afghanistan, where the fundamentalist Taliban regime provided support and protection. As a result of the international outrage aimed at bin Laden and al-Qaeda, President George W. Bush and the U.S. government launched a “war on terror,” which included the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, close cooperation with countries around the world in locating and prosecuting terrorists, and increased regulation of immigration and surveillance of the activities of immigrants in the United States.
On the morning of September 11, the hijackers commandeered four commercial aircraft loaded with jet fuel and used them as highly explosive guided missiles. The two airliners hijacked from Boston’s Logan International Airport slammed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, and in less than two hours the 110-story structures collapsed, killing 2,749 people. Another aircraft was hijacked at the capital’s Dulles International Airport and flown into the outer ring of the Pentagon, killing 189 people. A fourth aircraft hijacked at the Newark International Airport in New Jersey was destined for the U.S. Capitol but crashed in a Pennsylvania field when passengers fought with the hijackers. As investigators worldwide sifted through evidence and arrested conspirators, al-Qaeda was linked to a number of earlier high-profile terrorist attacks against United States interests, including the murder of 18 army Rangers in Somalia in 1993, the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
Within minutes of the attacks, a national ground stop was instituted, preventing all aircraft from taking off, and all border ports of entry were put on high alert. Within hours, about 4,500 aircraft of all kinds were safely landed. Some commercial flights resumed service on September 13, though civil aviation only gradually recovered, struggling with low passenger demand and the cost of implementing new safety measures.
On September 20, President Bush announced creation of the new Office of Homeland Security, which became a U.S. department in March 2003. As a result of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. and Canadian governments were forced to confront terrorism as a domestic rather than an international issue, which led to a series of immigration and travel reforms. In the United States the USA PATRIOT ACT was quickly passed and signed into law (October 26, 2001), providing for greater surveillance of aliens and increasing the power of the attorney general to identify, arrest, and deport aliens. The monitoring of some aliens entering on nonimmigrant visas was instituted, new fraudresistant travel documents were authorized, and more extensive background checks of all applications and petitions to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were approved, the SEVIS database was created to track the location of aliens in the country on student visas, and the U.S. attorney general was given the right to immediately expel anyone suspected of terrorist links. Also, the State Department introduced a 20-day waiting period for visa applications from men 16 to 45 years of age from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
After many years of heated debate and the shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks, in 2002, the Canadian parliament passed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which redefined the criteria by which immigrants would be admitted, and provided the government with specific tools for denying entry to potential terrorists or deporting them once they were discovered. The measure provided that after enactment on June 28, 2002, all new permanent residents would receive Permanent Resident Cards, that existing permanent residents could apply for the card after October 15, 2002, and that effective January 2004, the cards would be required for reentry of permanent residents who had traveled outside Canada. The act also provided for removal of anyone involved in “organized crime, espionage, acts of subversion, terrorism, war crimes, human or international rights violations, criminality and serious criminality.” The measure also allowed immigration officials to detain people more easily on “reasonable suspicion” of failing to appear for possible deportation proceedings, of posing a risk to the public, or of refusing information to the immigration service.
Perhaps the most profound result to immigration in the United States, at least in the short term, was the dissolution of the INS. After extensive investigations of INS procedures and the embarrassing revelation that two of the September 11 hijackers actually received visa renewals after the terrorist attacks, the INS was dissolved and its duties divided among the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the bureau of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), all under the Department of Homeland Security.
Ironically, policy trends in immigration already evident prior to September 11, 2001, seem not to have been radically altered. The growing nativist tendency that found expression in Proposition 187 and the recall of California governor Gray Davis remains. President Bush’s desire to partner with Mexican president Vicente Fox in finding a workable solution to the illegal immigration problem was temporarily put on hold but was surprisingly revived in January 2004 with Bush’s proposal of a new and controversial Temporary Worker Program (see Mexican immigration). And Canadian and U.S. policy differences regarding immigration remain unresolved. Despite the December 12, 2001, signing of the U.S.-Canadian “Smart Border” Declaration designed to enhance border security, in 2004, Canadians were still complaining about U.S. profiling tactics, and Americans still regarded Canada as a potential haven for terrorists.
See also Afghan immigration; terrorism and immigration.