How America Has Changed Since 9/11

Fourteen years ago the United States wasn’t officially engaged in any wars.  Few of us had ever heard of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, and ISIS didn’t exist. We deported half the number of people we do today. Our surveillance state was a fraction of its current size. And, maybe hardest to believe, you didn’t have to take your shoes off at the airport.

America’s involvement in the War on Terror, prompted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, resulted in changing attitudes and concerns about safety and vigilance. It ushered in a new generation of policies like the USA Patriot Act that prioritized national security and defense, often at the expense of civil liberties. These changes had ripple effects across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, where American-led military operations have helped foment rebellions and unrest throughout the region. There are several dramatic transformations brought on by the events of that single day.

On-going wars: Less than a month after 9/11, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to dismantle al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attacks, and remove the Taliban government.  Two years later, in March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and deposed President Saddam Hussein. Although not directly linked to the terrorist attacks, Hussein was suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction, although none were ever found. The invasion was a key part of America’s newly launched War on Terror under the leadership of President George W. Bush. Our military involvement in Afghanistan turned into the longest-running war in U.S. history. And although formal U.S. combat operations ended in late 2014, the U.S. military remains deeply entrenched there, in an effort to help stem the ongoing Taliban insurgency.

Immigration and deportation: With the goal of strengthening border security, the Bush Administration created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, a cabinet-level office that merged 22 government agencies. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the US Customs Service, both formerly part of the Department of Justice, were consolidated into the newly formed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency has overseen a massive increase in deportations, which have nearly doubled since 9/11. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, there were roughly 200,000 annual deportations a year between 1999 and 2001. While that number dropped slightly in 2002, it began to steadily climb the following year. In the first two years of the Obama Administration (2009-10), deportations hit a record high of nearly 400,000 annually.

Airport Security: Long airport lines, full body scans, the occasional pat-down. It’s all par for the course, nowadays, for air travel. But not so long ago, it wasn’t unusual to show up at the airport a half-hour before a domestic flight, keep your shoes tied tight, and skip through the metal detector while sipping a Big Gulp, all without ever having to show an ID. Before the advent of color-coded security threat warnings, pat downs were very uncommon, liquid was allowed, and the notion of having to go through full-body scanners was the stuff of science fiction. Prior to 9/11, some airport security teams even allowed passengers to take box cutters aboard (the weapon used by the 9/11 hijackers). In the wake of the terrorist attacks, airport security underwent a series of major overhauls. And a service that was once largely provided by private companies is now overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. (References: kqed.org)

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