In response to 9/11 and other threats since, the US government has done a great deal to improve immigration and border processes to boost national security. Yet effectively addressing evolving threats depends on the government’s ability to balance the country’s immigration, national security, and public safety priorities.
Current immigration policies and systems play an important role in protecting citizens. Federal immigration agencies are a central component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Working in collaboration with federal intelligence agencies and local law enforcement at home and foreign governments abroad, the immigration system has become much more sophisticated and effective since DHS was created in 2001. Apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants along the border are at the lowest levels seen in decades. Screenings used to vet visitors, immigrants, and refugees have increased in complexity and efficacy. Programs that remove criminals from the country now increasingly prioritize enforcement resources to address public safety and security threats.
Still, more can be done. Updating immigration laws and policies would allow the immigration system to more effectively respond to security threats while sustaining the economic, cultural, and social benefits of immigration. The United States can build on existing immigration enforcement and control measures to strengthen national security through several changes:
- Develop comprehensive, consistent metrics to (1) measure the effectiveness of immigration and enforcement efforts, (2) better allocate resources at the border and beyond, and (3) inform the public and policymakers on the state of border security.
- Complete a connected entry and exit system to track and deter visa overstayers and disrupt the international travel of dangerous individuals.
- Foster greater cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials to more effectively remove high-risk individuals from the US interior while building trust with immigrant communities.
- Screen unauthorized immigrants living in the United States via a mechanism for documentation, allowing immigration enforcement officials to focus limited resources on individuals of concern.
- Update and expand legal immigration visas to redirect illegal immigration flows to vetted channels while meeting economic and humanitarian priorities.
Immigration reforms alone cannot address all the security threats facing the country. Much relies on defense, intelligence, and law enforcement apparatuses. However, the United States should develop practical immigration and border changes that can improve upon the existing security measures while recognizing other important national interests in economic security and meeting its humanitarian obligations.