Patriot Act of 2001 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., the Patriot Act significantly expanded the ability of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to investigate immigrants with terrorist ties by giving the USCIS greater access to intelligence information regarding terrorist suspects. The act also made it more difficult for non-U.S. citizens to gain citizenship, visas, permanent residency, and work permits.

Prior to the passage of the Patriot Act, the [a]Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was meant to provide accurate information, through an integrated database, regarding the entry and exit information on immigrants. Most of the terrorist acts that occurred on U.S. soil during the 1990’s were the result of domestic terrorists or migrants targeting other migrant groups. There were some exceptions, particularly the 1993 World Trade CenterWorld Trade Center bombing and the Islamic terrorist, Ahmed Ressam, who on a false passport, Canada;as entry route to United Statesentered the United States from Canada in 1999 with bomb-making materials. Nevertheless, immigration was not considered to be a terrorism issue but a social issue because of the large number of immigrants who entered across the U.S.-Mexico border. Most legislation and immigration control efforts centered on regulating the flow of migrants coming across that border.September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks;and Patriot Act of 2001[Patriot Act of2001]Terrorism;and Patriot Act of 2001[Patriot Act of 2001][a]Patriot Act of 2001Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.;and Patriot Act[Patriot Act]September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks;and Patriot Act of 2001[Patriot Act of 2001]Terrorism;and Patriot Act of 2001[Patriot Act of 2001][a]Patriot Act of 2001[cat]LAWS;Patriot Act of 2001[04110][cat]LAW ENFORCEMENT;Patriot Act of 2001[04110]Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.;and Patriot Act[Patriot Act]

Impact of September 11, 2001

The September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and Pentagon buildingPentagon building outside Washington, D.C., provoked the U.S. government to reflect on immigration and border security. Mexico and Canada were now viewed as potential sources of terrorist infiltration. Mexico was considered to be incapable of effectively policing its own borders; Canada was viewed as having too lax an immigration policy, enabling terrorists to gain access to the United States by using Canada as an entry point. The U.S. government quickly moved to enact legislation to provide greater security against terrorist threats. With little debate, the House of Representatives and Senate overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act, and President George W. Bush signed the act into law on October 26, 2001. The act provided a comprehensive restructuring of the capabilities of various federal agencies to combat the threat posed by terrorism to the United States. These reforms included intelligence sharing, expanded powers of surveillance, and tighter border control.

The Patriot Act greatly expanded the ability of border control and immigration agencies to determine who entered the United States and allowed these agencies to locate immigrants with terrorist ties who were already within the United States. The act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide the Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.;and Patriot Act[Patriot Act]U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) access to the Federal Bureau of Investigation;databases ofFederal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal file databases, allowing the USCIS to run criminal background investigations on any foreign nationals applying for entry into the United States. The USCIS is authorized to refuse admission to any immediate relatives of immigrants with ties to terrorism within the last five years. Any relative found to have an association with terrorist groups or intentions of committing terrorist attacks will be refused entry into the United States. Foreign students;database ofForeign students in the United States are tracked by a database that records their ports of entry and schools. Additionally, the attorney general must grant approval to foreign students wishing to attend vocational schools,language training schools, or flight schools.

The Patriot Act provided monetary support to triple the number of security personnel on the U.S.-Canada border (since most of the border security was previously centered on the border with Mexico). The act called for investigation of the feasibility of enacting an automated fingerprint identification system to be used at posts abroad and in ports of entry to the United States. Also, any immigrant who was suspected of being a terrorist could be detained for up to six months if the release of the suspect could pose a threat to U.S. national security. The act also called for expediting the integrated entry and exit data system in the [a]Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act by using biometric technology and tamper-resistant documents. In addition, the act provided humanitarian aid to alien spouses and children of deceased U.S. citizens.

The Patriot Act is one of the most controversial U.S. laws in recent history. Some of its provisions have been challenged for their constitutionality. Certain programs, such as biometric identification, have been met with significant resistance from civil rights groups and members of Congress. Many civil rights organizations are critical of Congress’s supposed failure to fully debate and explore all the nuances of the Patriot Act before approving it.September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks;and Patriot Act of 2001[Patriot Act of 2001]Terrorism;and Patriot Act of 2001[Patriot Act of 2001][a]Patriot Act of 2001

Further Reading
  • Baker, Stewart A., and John Kavanagh, eds. Patriot Debates: Experts Debate the USA Patriot Act. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2005. Series of scholarly essays largely relating to provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire in 2005. Includes essays on border security and detention.
  • Etzioni, Amitai. How Patriotic Is the Patriot Act? Freedom Versus Security in the Age of Terrorism. New York: Routledge, 2004. Provides an overview of the security measures of the Patriot Act and contains information surrounding the debate on tracking immigrants.
  • Ewing, Alphonse B. The USA Patriot Act. New York: Novinka Books, 2002. Contains a legal analysis of the Patriot Act as well as an accessible overview of the act.
  • Foerstel, Herbert N. The Patriot Act: A Documentary and Reference Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2008. Primary source collection with analysis following each document.
  • LeMay, Michael C. Illegal Immigration: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2007. Accessible overview of the debates surrounding illegal immigration.
  • Wong, Kam C. The Impact of USA Patriot Act on American Society: An Evidence Based Assessment. New York: Nova Science, 2007. Discussion of the effects of the Patriot Act on immigrant students, universities, and American society.

Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001

Border fence

Border Patrol, U.S.

Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.

Homeland Security, Department of

Immigration law

Muslim immigrants

9/11 and U.S. immigration policy

Permanent resident status

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