WASHINGTON — Ali-Reza Torabi was a sixth-grader in San Diego when two planes slammed into the Twin Towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
Torabi was living in the country without documentation after moving to the United States from Iran with his mother and brother six years before. The attacks would divide his life into two distinct parts: “There was pre-9/11 life and post-9/11 life,” he recalled.
His father, a baker and construction worker in Shiraz, had been trying to join the family after his visa application was initially rejected pre-9/11. After 9/11, Torabi said, that became “nearly impossible,” and his dad would eventually give up hope of joining his family. They haven’t seen one another in 26 years.
Following the attacks, Torabi remembers classmates hurling racist slurs at him because of his Middle Eastern ethnicity. He got involved with anti-war protests, later marched against legislation seeking to criminalize unauthorized immigration, and eventually channeled his activism into his own fight to remain in the U.S.
The Sept. 11 attacks upended U.S. immigration policy, linking it for the first time to the nation’s anti-terrorism strategy and paving the way for two decades of restrictive laws. But it also gave rise to a new kind of immigrant rights movement led by young people like Torabi.
He and other young immigrants say they were spurred by post-Sept. 11 separations of family members and friends, the government’s renewed focus on restricting driver’s licenses and, most of all, by a sense that nearly all other paths to immigration reform had been choked off.
Some even adopted the very legal tactics that advocates had used to help immigrants immediately after 9/11 — tactics that would help lay the groundwork for the Obama administration’s landmark Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that has allowed some 800,000 immigrants who lack documentation to live and work in the United States.
By Meena Venkataramanan for LOS ANGELES TIMES
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