The September 11 terrorist attacks abruptly shifted the U.S. immigration debate from liberalizing policy with Mexico to deep misgivings about border controls. To combat terrorism, the United States must strengthen the weak links in its immigration system. This effort should concentrate on prevention by improving visa screening and admission decisions, the country's first line of defense. Other important measures to modernize systems that provide information about visitors, including foreign students, can be implemented reasonably quickly.
Although not fail-safe, these near-term improvements to the immigration system will establish a necessary balance between enforcing controls and facilitating movement. This balance, which has often been lacking, will enable the United States to deter threats more effectively yet continue to capitalize on the benefits of immigration. The nation thus will maintain its openness to the world and defense of civil liberties while ensuring that immigration rules are made to matter.
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About the Author
Doris Meissner is former commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, where her accomplishments included reforming the nation's asylum system; creating new strategies to manage US borders in the context of open trade; improving services for immigrants; effectively handling humanitarian crises; and strengthening cooperation with Canada, Mexico, and other countries.
In 1989, Ms. Meissner founded the Carnegie Endowment's International Migration Policy Program, which became one of the world's premier sources of analysis regarding migration and refugees. She left in 1993, when President Clinton appointed her INS commissioner; she served in that post through 2000. She rejoined the Endowment in 2001 to direct a new research project in the Global Policy Program that explores the issues and challenges nations face in implementing global policies.