Monday, November 24, 2008

IV - Obama and Immigration

Closed-minded on the Border


Not surprisingly, foreign enrollment at U.S. universities fell after 9/11, ending more than four decades of virtually uninterrupted growth. That trend has begun to reverse in the past two years, in part because of hard work by some DHS officials to ease the student visa application process. But in the meantime, Europe, Australia, Canada and even Japan have aggressively and successfully recruited foreign students and seen sharp rises in enrollment.

Overseas visits have yet to return to pre-9/11 levels, despite the weak dollar that until recently had made the United States a bargain for tourists. In a survey conducted earlier this year by the Council on State Governments, investment-promotion officials in three out of four states said they had faced problems getting visas for potential foreign investors. And the difficulties that U.S. companies face in recruiting the best foreign workers have led some, including Microsoft, to move some operations abroad to remain competitive.

Although several of the most disruptive post-9/11 measures have been eased or removed, the world has grown much warier of the United States. We continue to make it inordinately difficult for people to come here by requiring personal interviews of all visa applicants, even those who have been here many times before. Others face overly long delays for security screening, and many become entangled in the morass of a complex immigration system in desperate need of reform. While some progress is being made on those problems, the bulk of the money (as Napolitano has seen up close in Arizona) is pouring into the construction of barriers on the southern border, the hiring of more Border Patrol agents and the creation of an elaborate system to track the entry and exit of every foreigner who comes to the United States.

Tom Ridge, the former secretary of homeland security, told me that after 9/11, "The world was kind of surprised that we pulled in the welcome mat so quickly." The 2008 election was largely about two issues: restoring America's economy at home and repairing its image abroad. Putting out the welcome mat again is vital to both.

Edward Alden is the author of "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11." He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times.

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