The 9/11 incident and subsequent terrorist attacks have left the American people living in a perpetual state of fear. As a result, the public has largely deferred to those actions that the government has deemed as “essential” to national security. The proliferation of already contested, by the public and legally, practices such as racial profiling, deportation of individuals without due process, and the militarization of the police – may appear to be promoting the public welfare but it can be seen that they are imposing too high of a price. In exchange for the perception of safety, the people are sacrificing the civil rights and liberties that American ideals rely upon.
In carrying out the “War on Terror,” the federal government has taken on a culture whereby everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State have worked to create a Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). This database holds eight separate watch lists of suspected terrorists and for those listed, they may have their movements restricted, become subject to surveillance, or have their visas revoked. While this may seem to be a sensible and reasonable tactic, reports have shown that these watch lists hold many errors. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office found that over the course of three years, around half of those listed were misidentified. This amounts to thousands upon thousands of individuals being treated like terrorists, when they have done no wrong.
This tendency to criminalize the innocent has not been limited to those who may have been stereotyped as having the look of a terrorist, or “un-American.” For years now, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and cooperative law enforcement have detained and/or deported individuals who have committed minor infractions or had no criminal record at all. A New York Times report shows that since 2008, these types of individuals have made up two-thirds of the two million deportation cases. The ICE attributes the overall increase in deportations to programs like Secure Communities, which has received a great deal of critique for using racial profiling techniques to target those who seem “suspicious.” While this trend is disheartening in itself, it has also been accompanied by an expansion in the use of expedited removal proceedings. This is extremely discouraging, as these expedited proceedings tend to result in a violation of due process and they take away the opportunity to appeal for those who may be wrongly sentenced. While some counties in states such as Philadelphia and Oregon have taken actions to help prevent this wrongdoing, the majority of the country still sits idly by while innocent people are being thrown out of the country for traffic infractions.
Americans have become so fearful of potential outside threats that they have allowed local and state law enforcement to militarize themselves. Even small towns, unlikely targets for terrorist attacks, have seen a rise in SWAT programs and the presence of military grade weapons and vehicles. This has resulted in a “warrior” culture emerging among local law enforcement and the use of excessive force against citizens suspected of minor crimes.
The erosion of rights for innocent citizens, the deportation of individuals without due process and the militarization of police forces are just a few of the dangers that can emerge when the people give up their rights and voices for temporary safety. These actions may all take place in the name of better security and protection of our democracy, but they are eroding that which our democracy depends on. The American people can no longer let fear stifle their voices. It is time to speak up and hold fast to that which makes our citizenship so valuable.