Why is it not surprising that in the wake of the horrific attacks in Boston, some in Congress and elsewhere are clamoring to put the brakes on the first real attempt at much-needed immigration reform in years? Some are even going so far as to call for a “suspension” of student visas, which have absolutely nothing to do with the chain of events that resulted in two crazy guys killing four people and injuring hundreds more.
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 Marathon attack 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.
Whatever “radicalization” that occurred happened after they were brought to America and spent their formative years here. Absent some “Matrix”-like behavior-predicting capacity that I hope the government doesn’t think it has, it is difficult to see how the immigration or naturalization system could have somehow prevented last week’s murderous crime spree.
In fact, it should be noted that the principal reason we know so much about these two young men is that they actually came to America by way of a legal, documented and orderly process. If there was a systemic failure, it wasn’t the immigration system. A law enforcement failure? Maybe. An intelligence failure? Maybe. A problem that should derail immigration reform or “suspend” visas for hundreds of thousands of students who not only want to come here to study, but most of whom will actually pay full price at our colleges and universities? No.
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.
When that happens, the terrorists win — whether they are homegrown, imported or self-radicalized.
Gary Johnson was the Libertarian candidate for president in 2012 and a two-term governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003.