Immigration and National Security: The Illusion of Safety Through Local Law Enforcement Action

18 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2011

See all articles by David A. Harris

David A. Harris

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: December 6, 2011


Despite efforts to reform immigration law in the 1980s and the 1990s, the new laws passed in those decades by the Congress did not solve the long-term problems raised by undocumented people entering the United States. The issue arose anew after the terrorist attacks of September, 2001. While the advocates for immigration crackdowns in the 1980s and 1990s had cast the issue as one of economics and cultural transformation, immigration opponents after 9/11 painted a different picture: illegal immigration, they said, was a national security issue. If poor farmers from Mexico and Central America could sneak into the U.S. across the southwestern border, so could potential terrorists. This "re-branding" of illegal immigration gained significant traction on the national level, but resulted in no federal legislation. The immigration debate has now moved to the state level, with the focus on state laws such as Arizona's SB 1070. These state laws have brought about something long sought by immigration opponents that they failed to attain in the national debates: local and state law enforcement agencies are now obligated to question people they stop about immigration status. While national security has not been the primary motivation of state lawmakers, the ironic result of these state laws will be a decrease in security against terrorists who might try to penetrate the land borders of the U.S.

Keywords: immigration law, reform, immigration enforcement, national security, terrorism, illegal immigration, legislation, border protection, Mexico, Arizona SB 1070, police power, police discretion, stop and frisk, reasonable suspicion, U.S. Constitution, local law enforcement

JEL Classification: K14, K32, K39, K42, K49

Suggested Citation

Harris, David A., Immigration and National Security: The Illusion of Safety Through Local Law Enforcement Action (December 6, 2011). Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 28, 2011, University of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-27, Available at SSRN:

David A. Harris (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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