September 11, 2001 was a paradigm shift. It is considered the deadliest terrorist attack in world history: nearly 3,000 people died and thousands more sustained lifelong injuries, depression, and PTSD. After the World Trade Center fell, a traumatized nation lived in terror of another attack, and amid the chaos, the United States set out to prioritize national safety above all.
The 24-hour news cycle of the attacks focused endlessly on the identity of the terrorists: non-citizens who had been able to exploit “vulnerabilities” in the immigration system. In the eyes of the United States, “national safety” required an urgent revamp of the system—and the public agreed. People were willing to grant full control to government agencies under the guise that they’d keep Americans safe from terrorism. Harsh policy changes in the name of national security, such as the Patriot Act, came into effect. But both Congress and the White House also focused the weight of policy making on curving immigration, funding astronomical budgets to further tighten borders, and toughening enforcement against non-citizens, including Muslims, Latinos, and others with zero ties to terrorism.
One of the most impactful creations was The Department of Homeland Security (DHS,) which oversees Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.
But the changes also echoed inside communities across the country. For example, in the years following September 11, Real ID legislation was introduced at the federal level. It was touted as a way to standardize drivers’ licenses throughout the U.S. by setting minimum guidelines individual states would need to follow to grant identification and driving permits, including requiring the verification of legal status for every applicant.