Law Enforcement in the American Security State

53 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2020

See all articles by Wadie E. Said

Wadie E. Said

University of South Carolina School of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2019


This Article documents the evolution of the modern American police state and the symbiotic nature of the relationship between government actors across the three sectors of national security, domestic policing, and immigration enforcement. Policies from one area make their way into the other two, with the net result being that the powers of government actors are increased in all three areas. Critical to this dynamic is the construction of the target in each arena — the terrorist, the criminal, the illegal immigrant — as foreign, whether literally or figuratively. Although these targets are ostensibly limited to those deemed outside the mainstream, the result is a society in which security personnel can monitor and detain the citizenry at ever earlier intervals, often on evidentiary showings that are at best minimal. The relationship between war on terror practices and traditional policing is symbiotic; sometimes a tactic migrates from the foreign arena to the domestic, and in other instances police practices are brought to bear in the context of war. This state of affairs fuels the notion that policing has become more and more of a national security enterprise. Additionally, the operation of a separate system of immigration enforcement at the nation’s borders and points of entry also plays a role in expanding law enforcement powers and creates new areas of enhanced powers less susceptible to outside review. Driving the constant push for greater law enforcement powers across the three zones is the concept that violations of the law can be prevented. In each case, the notion of prevention is rooted in law enforcement’s unshakeable belief that target communities commit more crime, are just a step away from being radicalized into terrorist attackers, or will illegally cross the border to break the law here with impunity. In exploring the practices and theoretical underpinnings of the security state, as well as the legal framework that has broadened police powers and justified its excesses to a great degree, the Article probes how much the United States has come to resemble a police state.

Keywords: Policing, terrorism, immigration, national security, profiling, surveillance

Suggested Citation

Said, Wadie E., Law Enforcement in the American Security State (December 1, 2019). Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2019, No. 4, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Wadie E. Said (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina School of Law ( email )

1525 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

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