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Discussing a Decade of Post-9-11 U.S. Immigration Policy

On September 22, Muzaffar Chishti, Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) at New York University Law School, presented “9/11’s Impact on U.S. Immigration Policy: A Scorecard 10 Years Later.” The event was hosted by the Cornell Immigration Clinic, the Cornell ISS Immigration Project, and the Latino American Law Students Association. After an introduction by Stephen Yale-Loehr, Adjunct Professor of Law and Director of the Immigration Clinic at Cornell Law School, Chishti, who attended Cornell Law School, opened his remarks by expressing his gratitude “to the school that brought me to this country.”

“Let me begin with a strangely cheerful note,” continued Chishti, who, along with Yale-Loehr and others, issued a report on immigration policy for the newly formed MPI shortly after 9/11. Some observers’ gravest fears, based on immigration policy during the World Wars, were belied, said Chishti. Nonetheless, he noted, post-9/11 policy developments have undermined principles of openness, due process, and equal protection. Some initiatives that were at first felt keenly by many Muslim and Arab Americans have since been abandoned, he observed, but not before withstanding legal challenges whose failure embedded troubling precedents in our legal system.

Overarching among the post-9/11 developments was the “whole new regime of Homeland Security,” which has “extended borders outside and inside the country.” Concluding his lecture on another positive note, however, Chishti remarked that the “sense of siege” created by 9/11 catalyzed a new coherence and self-assertion within Muslim-American communities, which have dramatically increased their civic and political engagement and established a “distinct Muslim-American identity.”

The Q&A following the presentation raised issues including integration, refugee policy, and the challenges of comprehensive immigration reform in an era of political polarization. Chishti forecasted that due to the 2012 presidential election, the government would not be ready to address “the whole enchilada” of immigration within the next year. Referring to the nation’s large population of undocumented immigrants, including children, he said, “If it doesn’t happen in 2013, [however,] we have a huge responsibility to untangle the enchilada… these kids are depending on people like us for their salvation.”

“It was great to have Mr. Chishti speak on this important topic,” said Yale-Loehr, “both because Cornell Law students did some of the initial research on the impact of 9/11 on immigrants and because of the campus-wide focus on immigration this year through the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences’ theme project.”

The ISS Immigration Project seeks to knit together the expertise of immigration researchers across campus, fostering collaborative, interdisciplinary research outcomes, expanding the theoretical frontier of immigration studies, and strengthening Cornell’s institutional resources for the study of immigration.

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