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U.S. closing the door on immigrants: new security measures prompted by fears of terrorism are pushing away immigrants and refugees.

In the surf off Miami, 200 Haitians, some in their finest clothes, leap from a grounded wooden ship, stagger to shore, and then scatter, some diving into the back of passing pickup trucks and others hiding in bushes, in a desperate bid to enter the United States, even illegally.

In the desert outside Red Rock, Arizona, gunfire erupts in the night. Police later find the bodies of two illegal immigrants from Mexico. Immigrant rights groups blame vigilantes for taking law enforcement into their own hands.

On a Sunday afternoon in Denison, Iowa, a worker opens a sealed freight car and finds the skeletons of 11 people who had allowed themselves to be locked inside an empty railcar to be smuggled into America. The sealed car went unopened for months; the immigrants perished from starvation, suffocation, or heat exhaustion.

These tense and deadly gambles, all in recent months, suggest how new laws and policies--aimed at catching terrorists before they strike--are tightening U.S. borders and perhaps pushing illegal immigrants to take increasing risks to start a new life in America. The government's heightened security efforts are increasing restrictions across the board on all noncitizens. And it is making life tougher for foreigners seeking to enter the U.S., legally or illegally.


"There is now a tainting of all people who come to this country as suspected terrorists, says Angela M. Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro immigration group. "For immigrants, the welcome mat is really being ripped out from under them."

The change comes on the heels of the greatest influx in American history. From 1990 to 2001, more than 14 million immigrants came to the United States. If they all were assembled in one place, they would create the largest city in the U.S., almost twice the size of New York. Indeed, in 2000, foreign-born residents accounted for 10 percent of the total U.S. population.

Many were legal immigrants: people whose skills or family ties in the U.S. made them eligible for legal residence, or political refugees granted asylum because of repression in their home countries.

About one quarter, or 7 million, of the nation's 32 million foreign-born people are believed to be in the country illegally. In the past, authorities sometimes turned a blind eye at the urging of business groups and others who argued that immigrants play a vital role in the nation's economy, accepting low wages for a wide variety of jobs and services.

During the 1990s, half of new workers in the U.S. were immigrants, according to Northeastern University researchers. Among male workers, 8 in 10 were immigrants. The report suggests that, whatever their legal status, immigrant workers were critical to the huge economic run-up of the 1990s.

Yet tighter border security, aimed at stopping potential terrorists, is raising the heat on illegal immigrants. In 2001, 1.7 million illegal immigrants were apprehended in the U.S., the highest number in more than 50 years, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the federal agency that enforces U.S. laws regulating the admission of immigrants and foreign visitors.

"If you are running a system to stop terrorism," says Roy Beck, executive director of Americans for Better Immigration, a group seeking to reduce immigration, "you're going to be running a system that is far better at stopping illegal worker flow."

Yet the lure of life in the U.S. is so strong that some say the tighter borders may only drive people to take desperate measures. Along the U.S. border with Mexico, for instance, the crackdown "will force more people out into the desert and that will lead to more deaths," says Michael Fix, an immigration expert at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.


The intense scrutiny for terrorists at major border crossings has prompted people to cross in remote areas, sometimes with terrible consequences. In Arizona alone, 134 immigrants died in the desert during a 12-month period that ended in September; during a similar period in 1998, 11 died. And the borders are only likely to get tighter. The INS, long criticized for being lax and inefficient, will soon become part of the new Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with protecting the U.S. from terrorist attack. Immigration specialists say that the INS will soon be getting a makeover, with a much greater emphasis on law enforcement and prosecution.

Immigration rights groups say the Bush administration signaled its new position when it appointed a federal prosecutor to direct the INS as it is absorbed into the homeland department. Administration officials were quick to argue that the new agency will continue to respect the rights of immigrants. Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Tom Ridge, the President's nominee to direct the Homeland Security Department, calls the U.S. "a welcoming country that was created by immigrants."


The U.S. is also cutting back on admissions for another group: political refugees. Though the U.S. still leads the world in admitting refugees, there was a precipitous drop in the number in 2001. Only 27,113 were admitted, although the government had allocated space and money for up to 70,000. In the previous year, 68,426 refugees were allowed to enter the country.

Even immigrant rights groups acknowledge that the government is in a tough position in trying to balance security while still helping refugees. "It's very distressing and at the same time it's somewhat understandable," says Kenneth H. Bacon, president of Refugees International. "The system clearly didn't work."

The U.S. is not alone in struggling to reshape its immigration policy. France and Britain only recently settled a refugee dispute involving Iraqi Kurds and Afghans who were trying to enter Britain illegally. Italy is trying to stop unauthorized refugees from North Africa. Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Russia are all facing political fallout from the increasing presence of immigrants.

The immigration debate has a special resonance with Ramon Patino, 31. He owns a restaurant and a small grocery store in Denison, Iowa, the town where the railcar with the 11 skeletons was found.

Patino says he is one of the fortunate ones, an immigrant from Mexico who eventually obtained U.S. citizenship. He said he doesn't imagine the deaths in his town will discourage others from trying to come to the U.S.

"America is the dream of everybody," he says. "Unfortunately, everybody doesn't make it."

Fear of Terrorism Is Shutting off Flow of Immigrants and Refugees


* Have the terrorist attacks of 2001 made you more concerned about immigrants and refugees?

* Should illegal immigrants who are found out be sent back to their country of origin or should they receive jail sentences?


To help students understand growing concerns about immigrants and refugees, specifically the fear that terrorists may be penetrating the U.S. posing as legitimate immigrants or refugees.


BEFORE READING: Help students understand the impact of immigration on the American experience. Ask them to identify their families' origins. Remind them that all Americans, including American Indians, came from some other part of the world.

IMMIGRANT INTERVIEW: Tell students that interviews of immigrants are one tool officials use to separate those immigrants who simply want a better life in America from those who might engage in terrorism. Assign students to write 10 or more questions they would ask arriving immigrants to help better understand who they are and why they have emigrated to the U.S. Questions might involve family ties, professions, where immigrants intend to live, life in their home country, etc. Students might use a point system to help evaluate immigrants. Should those who wish to farm in a rural area get more points than those who wish to live in a crowded city? Should someone with a needed skill get a higher grade than someone whose skills are not in high demand?

DISCUSSION: This article provides ample fodder for a discussion that yields few easy answers. (Note that even immigrant-rights groups admit that the government is in a tough position in trying to balance security against immigrants' rights.) These are some of the questions students should consider:

* Do students agree with Angela Kelley, that all people who come to the U.S. are suspected terrorists? Which groups or individuals might face easier admission?

* If immigrants make such a vital contribution to the American economy, is it wise to stress the INS role in law enforcement and prosecution, thus dissuading immigration?

* Given the danger that terrorism presents to the security of the United States, is it not reasonable to halt immigration until the threat has been eliminated? What are the pros and cons?
Upfront QUIZ 2


DIRECTIONS: Write the correct answer on the line provided.

1. The state of -- is a magnet for
refugees fleeing their desperately poor homeland in Haiti
for a new life in the United States.

2. In the desert of southern --, some
Mexicans, seeking to enter the U.S. illegally, have met
their death at the hands of vigilante group, who use
violence to keep out illegal immigrants.

3. New laws that have tightened U.S. borders, thus making
entry harder for many immigrants, were passed with
the hope that they would enable authorities to catch
-- before they could act.

4. There is a major difference between legal immigrants,
people whose skills or family ties make them eligible for
legal residence in the U.S., and --
who are granted, asylum because they face repression in
their home countries.

5. There are about 32 million foreign-born people living in
the U.S. Of this number, authorities estimate that about
-- percent are living here illegally.

6. In years past, authorities turned a blind eye to illegal
immigrants because business groups claimed that illegal
immigrants helped the -- by accepting
low wages for performing a variety of jobs and services.

7. During the 1990s, a study done by Northeastern
University found that -- of all new workers
were immigrants, the majority of them illegal.

8. In 2001, 1.7 million illegal immigrants were apprehended
according to the Immigration and --
Service, the federal agency that enforces U.S. laws
regulating the admission of immigrants.

9. The federal agency identified in question 8, above, is
scheduled to be absorbed into a new superagency, the
Department of --
which is charged with protecting the U.S. from terrorist
attack. (two words)

10. Unlike the United States and many Western European
countries, -- is eager to welcome
new immigrants.

Upfront Quiz 2, page 5

1. Florida
2. Arizona
3. terrorists
4. refugees
5. 25
6. economy
7. half
8. Naturalization
9. Homeland Security
10. Canada

RELATED ARTICLE: Canada courts immigrant families.

In southeastern Manitoba, Lidia Tschritter meets her nine children at the door as they come home from school. She wears a homemade flower-print dress that reaches her ankles, just as she did in her Mennonite village in Kazakhstan, a nation that borders Russia.

Her husband, David, a carpenter, will be home any minute to care for the family's barnful of animals.

Lidia, David, and their children are part of an experiment that the Canadian government hopes will bring millions of immigrants into the country's vast prairies, forests, and tundra, matching the newcomers with rural businesses and farms that are starving for skilled labor.

With Canada's population aging, and birthrate sinking, the government says that it, like some European countries, must rely on increasing immigration or face decline in population.

"It's a matter of population growth, labor supply, quality of life, the very future of our country," says Denis Codere, the minister for citizenship and immigration.

Looking to immigration to meet its needs is not new for Canada. Today, Canada's per capita immigration rate is twice that of the United States. About 17 percent of the population is foreign born.

Critics of the government's rural development effort say immigrants will still gravitate to Canada's cities, which are among the most multiethnic in the world. But early results suggest that the new program may be having some success.

Martin Wayngenten, 30, an accountant, and his wife, Agustina, 29, a biomedical engineer, are among the immigrants who moved from Argentina to rural Canada.

The two have found jobs, are saving for a house, and are expecting their first child. "I am going to speak to my child in Spanish," Agustina says, smiling, "but he'll be a Canadian."

--Clifford Krauss
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Article Details
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Author:Vilbig, Peter
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 10, 2003
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