con'tAfter the shock of 9/11, the United States confronted a deadly serious challenge: how to prevent future terrorists from coming here to carry out further attacks. Many intelligent and overdue initiatives were rolled out, and they have made the country safer. In place of the fragmented and partial terrorist "watch lists" used before the 2001 attacks, for instance, the government has created a single, integrated list available to all front-line border officials and overseas embassies. DHS now gathers advance information on all overseas passengers to help identify potential threats before flights land in the United States. And great strides have been made in improving the security of identification documents and matching them to an individual's fingerprints so that terrorists or criminals cannot use false papers to enter the country. These "smart border" measures have largely been implemented without undue disruption to legitimate visitors or immigrants to the United States.
But alongside such sensible initiatives, the Bush administration decided to use immigration laws in far more aggressive and ruthless ways. Few Americans are aware of the vast powers the government wields here. Border inspectors can comb the laptop computer files of anyone entering the country, citizen or non-citizen, merely on suspicion of wrongdoing; ordinary constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure do not apply. Non-Americans suspected of violating immigration rules can be jailed for months or even years while their cases grind through immigration courts or while they await deportation. The government has exercised these powers to their fullest since 9/11.
Such trampling of American ideals is matched only by the damage to our interests. Openness to immigrants and to foreign students, entrepreneurs and visitors has long been this country's secret weapon. The world's best and brightest come to the United States in large numbers to study or work temporarily, and many end up staying. Early in the campaign, Obama lamented the post-9/11 decline in visas for foreign students, which he said "used to be one of the single best public-diplomacy tools in our possession."
No country has matched our ability to attract and inspire the world's talent, and the U.S. economy has reaped the benefits. While economic downturns inevitably lead to accusations that foreigners are stealing American jobs, the reality is that we have long attracted immigrants who innovate, create jobs and boost our economy. Some 40 percent of all new start-up companies in Silicon Valley, for instance, are headed by immigrants, according to a 2006 study for the National Venture Capital Association. But it doesn't take too many stories of delays, abuses or mistreatment at the hands of U.S. border or immigration officials to discourage people from coming here, particularly those whose talents offer them plenty of other options...con't