Keeping Terror Out: Immigration Policy and Asymmetric Warfare

By Krikorian, Mark | The National Interest, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Keeping Terror Out: Immigration Policy and Asymmetric Warfare


Krikorian, Mark, The National Interest


SUPPORTERS of open immigration have tried to de-link 9/11 from security concerns. "There's no relationship between immigration and terrorism", said a spokeswoman for the National Council of the advocacy group La Raza. "I don't think [9/11] can be attributed to the failure of our immigration laws", claimed the head of the immigration lawyers' guild a week after the attacks.

President Bush has not gone that far, but in his January 7 speech proposing an illegal alien amnesty and guest worker program, he claimed the federal government is now fulfilling its responsibility to control immigration, thus justifying a vast increase in the flow of newcomers to America. Exploring the role of immigration control in promoting American security can help provide the context to judge the president's claim that his proposal is consistent with our security imperatives, and can help to sketch the outlines of a secure immigration system.

Home Front

THE PHRASE "Home Front" is a metaphor that gained currency during World War I with the intention of motivating a civilian population involved in total war. The image served to increase economic output and the purchase of war bonds, promote conservation and the recycling of resources and reconcile the citizenry to privation and rationing.

But in the wake of 9/11, "Home Front" is no longer a metaphor. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in October 2002,

   Fifty years ago, when we said, 'home front',
   we were referring to citizens back home doing
   their part to support the war front. Since last
   September, however, the home front has
   become a battlefront every bit as real as any
   we've known before.

Nor is this an aberration unique to Al-Qaeda or to Islamists generally. No enemy has any hope of defeating our armies in the field and must therefore resort to asymmetric means. (1) And though there are many facets to asymmetric or "Fourth-Generation" warfare--as we saw in Al-Qaeda's pre-9/11 assaults on our interests in the Middle East and East Africa and as we are seeing today in Iraq. The Holy Grail of such a strategy is mass-casualty attacks on America.

The military has responded to this new threat with the Northern Command, just as Israel instituted its own "Home Front Command" in 1992, after the Gulf War. But our objective on the Home Front is different, for this front is different from other fronts; the goal is defensive, blocking and disrupting the enemy's ability to carry out attacks on our territory. This will then allow offensive forces to find, pin and kill the enemy overseas.

Because of the asymmetric nature of the threat, the burden of homeland defense is not borne mainly by our armed forces but by agencies formerly seen as civilian entities--mainly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And of DHS's expansive portfolio, immigration control is central. The reason is elementary: no matter the weapon or delivery system--hijacked airliners, shipping containers, suitcase nukes, anthrax spores--operatives are required to carry out the attacks. Those operatives have to enter and work in the United States. In a very real sense, the primary weapons of our enemies are not inanimate objects at all, but rather the terrorists themselves--especially in the case of suicide attackers. Thus keeping the terrorists out or apprehending them after they get in is indispensable to victory. As President Bush said recently, "Our country is a battlefield in the first war of the 21st century."

In the words of the July 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security:

   Our great power leaves these enemies with
   few conventional options for doing us harm.
   One such option is to take advantage of our
   freedom and openness by secretly inserting
   terrorists into our country to attack our
   homeland. Homeland security seeks to deny
   this avenue of attack to our enemies and thus
   to provide a secure foundation for America's
   ongoing global engagement. … 

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