The Attack In Boston Is Not Relevant To The Immigration Debate

Opponents of immigration reform are deceptively attempting to use the bombing attack in Boston to derail immigration reform.

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As I noted last weekend, almost immediately after we learned that the perpetrators of the attack at the Boston Marathon were refugees from Chechnya, the forces on the right who have been engaged in an all out attack on efforts to put together a comprehensive immigration reform package began citing it as a reason to put the debate over reform on hold. The fact that these two men had come into the country as children, and with no indication that they or their family had any ties to militant organizations, so it’s unclear what the case of the Tsarnaev family actually tells us about our immigration system. As I noted at the time, it was clear that the people making this argument were simply latching on to the terrorist attacks as another means by which to attack the very idea of reforming an obviously broken immigration system.

Today in The Washington Times, former New Mexico Governor, and 2012 Libertarian Party candidate for President, Gary Johnson puts forth a strong argument against using a knee-jerk reaction to a what appears to be a one-off terrorist attack to derail needed reform of our immigration system:

When something bad happens, blame immigration. It is just too easy politically to conjure up images of foreigners coming here — legally or illegally — as the cause of our problems. Make no mistake, our current immigration system is broken. If it wasn’t, we would not today be wrestling with the very real and very difficult question of how to deal with the 11 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in the country today. If it wasn’t broken, the arbitrary annual ceiling on visas for highly-skilled workers would not have been hit in only five days. If legal immigration levels were allowed to be set by the marketplace, rather than by artificial limits negotiated by politicians and labor unions, maybe we wouldn’t need as much of that border “enforcement” everyone seems to love so much.

Listing the problems with the system could go on all day, but we mustn’t let the politicians get by with confusing those problems with the heinous acts of a couple of deranged individuals in Boston. Even more important, let us not allow two brothers who committed murder and mayhem derail the hopes and dreams of millions of people who want to come to America for all the right reasons. Call it terrorism, call it a horrific crime, call it what you want, but the Boston Marathonattack does not reflect an immigration problem.

Let’s be clear. The Tsarnaev brothers apparently were brought to America by their father 10 years ago on tourist visas, and once here, sought and were granted asylum — a process that is probably not foolproof, but which is certainly not easy for the applicants. Granting asylum would have entailed a security screening — a pretty rigorous process in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. However, the brothers were very young, and it is almost inconceivable that anything would have arisen in a security screening of a preteen youngster or even a high schooler that could have predicted their insane acts.

(…)

In the understandably frantic aftermath of Sept. 11, we compounded the tragic human loss from those attacks with self-inflicted wounds to Americans’ liberty, freedom and privacy. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora and other horrible crimes, we are on the verge of taking ever-larger chunks out of the Second Amendment. Let us not allow knee-jerk political reactions to the Boston crimes similarly to make victims of students, aspiring legal immigrants and all of us who benefit from their coming here.

Syndicated columnist Dick Polman makes a similar argument:

[S]ince we’re talking about national security, it just so happens that the reformers are dealing with that anyway. Virtually all the money – roughly $17 billion over 10 years – would be spent on enhanced border security, most notably new surveillance technology. And bringing 11 million people (most of whom are Hispanic) out of the shadows would actually strengthen our security. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who’s hardly a wuss on security, says that reform would enable us to “find out who they are. Most of them are here to work, but we may find some terrorists.” Indeed, as the undocumented workers move toward citizenship, they’d be subjected to four separate background checks.

It’s politically understandable that the conservative foes of path-to-citizenship reform would latch onto the terrorism issue, especially if the timing seemed fortuitous. They don’t have much else, and they’ve been on defense ever since the sane Republican wing woke up to the fact that the party is toast unless it can find a way to connect with the burgeoning Hispanic electorate. A GOP report recently urged that the party find a way “to embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” and the business community wants it, too. So if fear of foreign terrorists was the only card left in the deck, the foes of reform were bound to play it.

Johnson and Polman are both correct. There are some serious issues raised by the attack in Boston and the fact that two young men who had spent a decade of their most formative  years growing up in an American culture decided to turn on it in the manner that they did. There are questions that will need to be answered about the warnings that American law enforcement and intelligence authorities received from Russian officials regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the investigation that followed and what it uncovered, and why Tamerlan was not placed on some kind of watch list. There are questions that will need to be answered regarding Tamerlan’s six-month trip to Russia and, apparently, Dagestan and whether there should have been some kind of follow up by the FBI after that trip, not to mention the questions about whether or not Russian authorities were monitoring Tsarnaev while he was in the country  and whether they ever informed anyone in the US about his movements. Finally, from initial reports it also appears that there may have been the same kind of failures of communication between various government agencies that preceded the September 11th attacks regarding the information that was received about Tamerlan, and that’s another issue that ought to be addressed in the aftermath of this attack.

Nowhere in the list of post-Boston issues, though, is there anything that even comes close to implicating the issues raised by the immigration reform ideas being discussed on Capitol Hill right now. As Governor Johnson mentions in his column,  the standards for asylum status under the law have become more stringent since the September 11th attacks and now include security screenings and other investigations, so it’s unclear what could have been done in the early 2000’s regarding the Tsarnaev family, and it’s even less clear what changes in immigration law would even come close to preventing what happened in Boston. Those who attempt to use the attack in Boston as an argument against immigration reform are doing nothing more than engaging in diversionary tactics.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Crime, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Caj says:

    I don’t think Boston has anything to do with the immigration debate. But, you can bet your bottom dollar many Republicans will say everything should be now put on hold because of the bombing! A good many Republicans don’t believe in any immigration reform so this tradegy as evil as it was gives them a perfect excuse! I’m sure some Republicans would prefer we never had anymore immigrants from anywhere!!! They can’t stand the fact the demographics are changing as it is, that has them pulling their hair out! Let’s keep America the way we like it. We don’t want all these new faces, colors and religions messing up what we hold dear. So some can pretend to embrace immigration reform but in their heart of hearts it’s not what they really want.

  2. Jeremy R says:

    There are questions that will need to be answered about the warnings that American law enforcement and intelligence authorities received from Russian officials regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the investigation that followed and what it uncovered, and why Tamerlan was not placed on some kind of watch list. There are questions that will need to be answered regarding Tamerlan’s six-month trip to Russia and, apparently, Dagestan and whether there should have been some kind of follow up by the FBI after that trip, not to mention the questions about whether or not Russian authorities were monitoring Tsarnaev while he was in the country and whether they ever informed anyone in the US about his movements.

    It was a Foreign Police Cooperation request from the Russians. They had us see if Tamerlan was a danger to them. We came up empty and let them know, and when we asked what intel was driving their suspicions, we received no response.

    As for lists, Tamerlan found himself on two: TIDE and TSD.

    On his travel, the Russians finally passed on what they had on that. We were informed that they’d seen no contact between Tamerlan and any known terrorist groups during his stay.

  3. stonetools says:

    Of course its relevant to the immigration debate. Its a golden opportunity for the tea party wing to whip up paranoia against immigrants who are flooding in to take over “their” America. They are doing their best to take advantage of this opportunity , too.
    Thanks to Mother Jones, Frank Luntz is caught on tape here lamenting that conservative talk radio is ripping into former Tea Party darling Rubio:

    Believing he was speaking privately to the dozens of students present, Luntz proceeded to gripe about conservative talk radio and its impact on political polarization:

    And they get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it’s really problematic. And this is not on the Democratic side. It’s only on the Republican side…[inaudible]. [Democrats have] got every other source of news on their side. And so that is a lot of what’s driving it. If you take—Marco Rubio’s getting his ass kicked. Who’s my Rubio fan here? We talked about it. He’s getting destroyed! By Mark Levin, by Rush Limbaugh, and a few others. He’s trying to find a legitimate, long-term effective solution to immigration that isn’t the traditional Republican approach, and talk radio is killing him. That’s what’s causing this thing underneath. And too many politicians in Washington are playing coy.

    Then of course, there are the real crazies like Alex Jones, who spin their conspiracy theories. based on the bombing . Even when they don’t mention immigration, they feed the paranoia.

  4. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    So? Newtown and the Boston bombings had nothing to do with gun control, but they’re still being flogged by various gun-grabbers.

    It’s human nature to look for patterns. A very large number of terrorists have been legal immigrants of various and sundry types; it makes some sense to look at ways we might detect future attackers.

    Alternately, we might want to look at why so many of them are Muslims, and try to work on that connection…

    Nah. Too politically incorrect. Can’t do that.

  5. john personna says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Of course there are reasonable questions coming out of both Newtown and Boston.

    I’ve got to admit we fell for a switch on Newtown, though. “What would background checks have done?” they asked us … ignoring completely the impact of large capacity, rapidly changed, magazine.

    In the case of Boston, did people take tips seriously and follow up on them? Yes, but sadly the bomber-to-be had not yet done anything criminal or incriminating.

  6. john personna says:

    OOOOOH.

    And don’t forget the argument circa Newton, that if the shooter could not get a gun he just would have used a bomb and killed even more people.

    We now know it isn’t that easy, even with lots of bombs.

  7. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Caj: I don’t think you’re being fair to Republicans. They realize that we need immigrants. We’ve always needed immigrants. What we need is immigrants who will change the sheets in our hotels, bus our dishes, pick our fruit, mine our coal and then go back to where they came from.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There are questions that will need to be answered

    Obama, Obama, and….. Obama. Any other questions?

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    So? Newtown and the Boston bombings had

    nothing to do with gun control,

    but they’re still being flogged by various gun-grabbers.

    Do you have to work at being this obtuse or does it just come naturally?

  10. grumpy realist says:

    I bet if I were to go back 100 -120 years and look at editorials and letters to the editor, we’d find the same hysteria, but this time about the Irish and the Italians. And the Chinese (remember the whole Yellow Peril stuff?)

    I want someone to drop a bikini-clothed Pam Geller into the Ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem. Fundies are fundies, no matter what religion they’re from.

  11. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @grumpy realist: I want someone to drop a bikini-clothed Pam Geller into the Ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem. Fundies are fundies, no matter what religion they’re from.

    I’m trying to decide if you’re more stupid than bigoted, more bigoted than stupid, or equally both.

    “Fundies” of only one faith are, around the world, actively killing non-“fundies” in significant numbers. The annual death toll at the hands of Muslim “fundies” runs into five figures a year. It’s not a precise number, as the majority of the victims of Muslim “fundies” are other Muslims, and often it isn’t reported very thoroughly.

    Just how many people were killed last year by Christian and Jewish “fundies?” I bet you’d be hard pressed to find 100 worldwide. And I think I’m being generous there.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    Jenos calling someone else a bigot.
    That’s rich.

  13. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Cliffy offering a comment completely devoid of content.

    That’s typical.

  14. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Alternately, we might want to look at why so many of them are Muslims, and try to work on that connection…

    Only 6% of the terrorist attacks on US soil are driven by Islamic extremism.

    Of course you know that, since this statistic has been mentioned a number of times in this very blog the past few weeks.

    It’s also human nature to lie.

  15. Caj says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    I guess that was tongue in cheek but you are absolutely right.

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Of course you know that, since this statistic has been mentioned a number of times in this very blog the past few weeks.

    Yes, I know that statistic. And I know it’s a crock of shit. It counts all “terrorist attacks” as equal, so environmentalist nutjobs who torch an SUV are equal to 9/11 by that metric.

    Which I mentioned at the time, but apparently you missed.

    Also, in that same report, about 90% of all people killed and around 76% injured by terrorist attacks were in attacks by Muslims. Funny how you didn’t cite that statistic…

  17. Mercer says:

    ” less clear what changes in immigration law would even come close to preventing what happened in Boston. ”

    If Muslims where not allowed to immigrate after 9/11 the marathon bombings would not have happened. If the older brother had been deported after the Russians informed our government he had ties to Jihadists it would not have happened. If the government enforced the laws about potential immigrants not being on welfare it would not have happened.

    There is no right for anyone to immigrate to the US under the constitution. Multiculturalism is also not in the constitution. The marathon bombings happened because political correctness dogmas are stronger among the elite classes than the desire to protect the security of US citizens.

  18. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Yes, I know that statistic. And I know it’s a crock of shit.

    Ah, the dreaded “BLAH BLAH BLAH I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!” defense.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mercer:

    Multiculturalism is also not in the constitution.

    Bullsh!t you idiot. Try actually reading the document and analyzing what the words actually mean.

  20. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Oh, I heard it. That’s why I pointed out how dishonest it was, and — by extension — how dishonest is anyone who cites it as if it has any meaning.

    The “BLAH BLAH BLAH I CAN’T HEAR YOU” defense, however, is ably demonstrated by your ignoring that very same source you cited that shows that about 90% of those killed and 76% of those injured in terrorist attacks were killed or wounded by Muslims acting in the name of Allah.

    Hey, toss that link out again, and I’ll confirm the precise percentages.

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Bullsh!t you idiot. Try actually reading the document and analyzing what the words actually mean.

    Please cite Article and Section references, please, that address “multiculturalism.”

    Or, even, relate to it.

    The closest you’ll come are the 1st Amendment, 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, and the 26th Amendment — and even those are stretches. But in the original text? You’re hallucinating.

  22. grumpy realist says:

    @Mercer: And if the government had locked up all crazy right-wing nuts Timothy McVeigh wouldn’t have happened.

    Do you really want to go down that road?

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: You may want to read the following before you are so quick to dismiss Ultra-Orthodox violence in Israel. If they haven’t killed anyone yet, it may be only a matter of time.

  24. Mercer says:

    “had locked up all crazy right-wing nuts ”

    If the nuts were citizens they could only be locked up after committing a crime. Non-citizens have no right to come or to stay under the constitution.

    Do you really want to go down the road of giving every person on the planet the same legal rights under US law of American citizens?

  25. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Gee, you don’t suppose that there may be one outlier event throwing off those averages, do you?

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What you call an “outlier,” I call “crowning triumph.”

    But do toss out that link again. I’m sure I can find other ways of presenting that raw data that will prove my point. Percentage of fatal terrorist attacks motivated by Islam, for example.

    Your way — which, as I noted several times — equates each incident equally, so “environmentalist whacko torches an SUV in the middle of the night” counts just as much as 9/11.

    Oh, and speaking of terrorism, do you consider Floyd Corkins a terrorist? If you don’t recognize the name, he’s the guy who looked at the SPLC “Hate Groups” list, saw the Family Research Council listed, then went there with a gun and a sack ful of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. His plan was to shoot people and smear their bodies with the sandwiches as a statement in favor of gay marriage. Instead, he wounded one guard before being subdued.

    And no, I’m not making that up. It’s been about as well blacked-out as the Kermit Gosnell story, because it’s politically inconvenient to the left, but it’s real.