Three Major Lasting Impacts of 9/11

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NOTE: There is an updated version (2014) of this post here.

Eleven years ago, America wasn't engaged in any foreign wars. We deported half as many immigrants as we do today. And getting through airport security was a total breeze.

America’s involvement in the War on Terror - spurred by the  9/11 terrorist attacks- resulted in new attitudes and concerns about defense and vigilance. The change ushered in a series of government policies like the USA Patriot Act that prioritized national security, often at the expense of civil liberties.

Here are three of the many dramatic transformations brought on by the events of 9/11:

I. More than a decade of war 

Less than a month after 9/11, US troops invaded Afghanistan in an effort to dismantle Al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban government that was harboring them. Two years later, in March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. Though not directly tied to the terrorist attacks, America’s invasion of Iraq was closely related to the War on Terror.


Today, the United States still finds itself deeply entangled in Afghanistan, now the longest war in U.S. history. And it was only in December 2011 that we pulled our remaining troops out of Iraq, leaving that country in a more democratic but volatile state than when we invaded it.

After 9/11, budgets for defense-related agencies sky-rocketed: Homeland Security's discretionary budget jumped from about $16 billion in 2002 to more than $43 billion in 2011, according to the PBS NewsHour. The budgets of the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and Border Patrol have all more than doubled since 2001.

Over the last decade, millions of young soldiers have been deployed overseas, thousands have been killed, and many have returned with significant physical and mental injuries.
According to U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, roughly 3.1 million Americans entered military service between 2001 and 2011, and nearly 2 million were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. More than 6,000 American troops have been killed, and roughly 44,000 wounded. Of returning service members, more than 18 percent have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, and almost 20 percent reported suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) during deployment.

The Impact in California

California is second only to Texas in its contribution of recruits to the U.S. military. As of 2009, the U.S. Census reported roughly 118,000 active California service members. Multiply that by the number of family and friends those soldiers left at home, and the statewide impact becomes quite significant. In 2010 alone, nearly 6,000 military recruits were from California, according to the National Priorities Project. The LA Times reports that as of August 21, 2012, 722 California service members from every corner of the state had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

II. Immigration and deportation

Meant to strengthen border protection, 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 - was consolidated into the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Emboldened by a series of federal laws streamlining the deportation process for criminals, the agency has overseen a huge increase in deportations. In the decade after 9/11, deportations in the U.S. nearly doubled.

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 record highs of nearly 400,000 annually. Only about half of those deported in 2009-10 were actually convicted of a criminal offense, and the majority of them were low-level offenders.

The Secure Communities program, established in 2008, allows local law enforcement to check the immigration status of every person booked in a county or local jail - even if they're not ultimately convicted of a crime - by comparing fingerprints against federal immigration records. There have since been numerous cases of undocumented immigrants entering deportation proceedings after being stopped for minor infractions (like not using a turn signal while driving). The program has expanded from partnerships with 14 law enforcement jurisdictions in 2008 to more than 1,300 today, and it’s on track to be instituted in all jurisdictions nationwide by next year.

The impact in California

In 2009, Jerry Brown - then California’s Attorney General - agreed to implement the program throughout the state. Since then, ICE reports having taken custody of almost 48,000 “convicted criminal aliens” in California. Almost half of those were deported, even though only about 10,000 of them were convicted of offenses considered “serious or violent.”

Mexican nationals have been disproportionately impacted: in 2008, they made up roughly 70 percent of all cases, according to a report by the Medill School at Northwestern University.

California, the primary destination for foreign nationals entering the country, is home to one in four of the nation’s immigrants. Of the nearly 10 million immigrants (both naturalized and undocumented) residing in the state, an estimated 4.3 million are Mexican immigrants, 28 percent of whom are naturalized, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

III. Flying the friendly skies

Long airport lines, full body scans, the occasional pat-down. It's all par for the course these days. But not all that long ago you could usually show up at the airport half hour before your domestic flight, keep your shoes tied tight, and sail through the metal detector clutching a Big Gulp and without having to show government ID. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, airport security underwent a series of major overhauls. What used to be provided by private companies is now overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. Created after the attacks, the TSA is tasked with instituting new security procedures and managing screening at every commercial airport checkpoint in the country. It marks the single largest federal start up since World War II. TSA is authorized to use watch lists of individuals who could pose a flight safety risk, and by 2007 had already accumulated a database of over 700 thousand names, according to the Department of Justice.

Before the advent of color-coded security threat warnings, pat downs were uncommon, liquid was allowed, and the notion of having to go through full-body scanners was the stuff of science fiction.


Heck, prior to 9/11, some airport security teams even allowed passengers to take box cutters aboard (the supposed weapon used by the 9/11 hijackers). Any knife with a blade up to four inches long was permitted, and box cutters were categorized by some airlines as “trade tools.” Meanwhile, cigarette lighters were only recently banned.