Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Book Review: The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security since 9/11 by Edward Alden

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Book Review: The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security since 9/11 by Edward Alden

Article excerpt

No one should be surprised with the current state of the U.S. border security system. After all, it reflects a neglected effort on behalf of the U.S. government to manage its border prior to the events of September 11, 2001 and scrambled efforts to patch programs and implement new ones shortly after 9/11. It shows what can happen if a government does not have a vision for the future. It shows how the government may make it harder for terrorists to enter the country but makes it harder for everyone else as well. It reflects a government that desperately needs to come to some decision about the kind of border security system that is necessary to help it manage the overall harmful risks to the nation's security. And it reflects the tensions between government efforts to enforce immigration laws and implement counterterrorism policies, two very distinct efforts that need to be separated.

These conclusions are fairly evident in The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security Since 9/11 , by Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. A journalist by profession (Alden has held several positions at the Financial Times ), Alden has captured all of the issues pertaining to border security through interviews with senior government officials and immigrants that have fallen victim to an imperfect and at times dysfunctional system. Alden nicely weaves together debates among the departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security on how to secure borders, effect visa policy, and use immigration law to counter terrorists. The book goes on to expose shortcomings in the enforcement efforts of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and highlights the relationship between the U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico on border control and trade. Amazingly, it is the first book, since that of the 9/11 Commission, to attempt to examine comprehensively the set of issues and problems confronting border security.

Alden brilliantly frames for the reader the struggles between what he calls the "Technocrats" (Chapter 3) and the "Cops" (Chapter 4). The technocrats are those who champion the position of taking a risk management approach to border security, adhering to constitutional principles and the rule of law, and the appropriate use of technology, information, and intelligence for security purposes so that restrictions or controls do not impede the free flow of people and commerce. These advocates included Tom Ridge, the first assistant to the president for homeland security and the first secretary of homeland security. They also included Admiral James Loy, former deputy secretary of homeland security, and to some extent former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner.

On the other side of the debate are the "Cops." The cops are those who champion the use of laws and regulations to potentially head off any terrorist attacks. They include former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who advocated for aggressive use of immigration laws. For Ashcroft, "If a terrorism suspect committed any legal infraction at all, regardless how minor, we would apprehend and charge him" (p. 81). Ashcroft and others interpreted immigration law not as a constitutional protection but as a regulation that allowed the government to charge someone suspected of an immigration violation and detain him or her without charge almost indefinitely without bond. They believed detentions would "help to prevent another attack," help to intimidate a detainee into "cooperating with the government," or cause a disruption in terrorist plans (p. …

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