The Boston Bombings and Immigration Reform

Once it became known that the Boston bombing suspects were immigrants from Russia’s restive southern flank, the handwringing began. Chief among the handwringers was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who expressed his concerns in a letter to Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, cautioning that:

“Before Congress moves forward, some important national security questions must be addressed. The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system. If we don’t use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs.” Senator Paul further warned that, “We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system.” [See Sen. Paul Issues Letter to Majority Leader Reid Regarding Consideration of Immigration Bill, Press Release, Office of Senator Rand Paul, 22.Apr.2013.]

Although it’s perfectly appropriate to raise questions about the adequacy of our national security in the wake of a disaster like this, Senator Paul’s approach would create problems of its own. Taken literally, it would mean that the entire effort to reform our immigration system – to make repairs that are long overdue – would be held up indefinitely, pending final answers about ultimate causes of the attack, answers that may be years in coming, if they’re ever discovered at all.

The crux of Senator Paul’s letter is the question: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism?” Although we lack a conclusive answer, Senator Paul recommends that some form of “heightened scrutiny” be applied to people from “high-risk areas of the world.” He suggests these measures might include a reinstatement of the NSEERs screening program that was discontinued in 2011.

The problem is, all the vigilance in the world cannot foresee an immigrant’s future intentions, at the time s/he enters the United States. At this writing, there is no indication that either Tsarnaev brother was bent on committing acts of terrorism when he immigrated to the United States. In fact, recent media reports indicate that the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was the driving force behind the attacks, and that he became radicalized only after living in the United States for years. At some point, it becomes less an immigration issue than a question of law enforcement and intelligence gathering.

How much scrutiny is enough, and where does it end? If we make it too difficult to come here, we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. To be sure, we need robust security to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm, but Fortress America is not the solution, because a free society demands the open exchange of new people and new ideas. Our society, our economy, and our culture are all richer for the contributions of immigrants, including those who come from “high risk” areas of the world, thousands of whom come here each year without ever endangering us, or our way of life. We have to be careful neither to overreact, nor to legislate out of fear.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to recently arrived immigrants, the ones who are still adjusting to life in this country. Senator Paul’s letter never asks what should be a crucial question: are we devoting sufficient resources to immigrant integration, to speed their adjustment to a new culture, to welcome them as part of the common life of our society? In addition to teaching English and job skills, are we also providing orientation to the shared values of our democratic society, to the obligations that accompany the rights we treasure?

Immigrants need to be full partners in the social contract that holds us together as a nation, and it’s in our best interest to help them to become Americans. It’s the right thing to do, and we really can’t afford not to. By the same token, we can’t afford to lose sight of a fundamental truth: immigration is good for America, and the overwhelming majority of immigrants are making positive contributions to our economy, society, and culture. If we punish the many for the crimes of the few, we also will be punishing ourselves.

Copyright © 2013, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.