Politics

04.29.13

The Boston Bombing Is Impacting the Immigration Debate—and It Should

If Aurora and Newtown justified tougher federal gun laws, writes Lloyd Green, then Obama needs to spell out the changes we need after Boston.

The Boston Marathon bombing, and the terror plots reported after the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, make it imperative that any attempt at immigration reform be coupled with stringent scrutiny of the visa and entry process. It is now evident that the bureaucratic shuffle failed, with catastrophic consequences: a city under siege, three people dead, and scores injured.

The link between terror and immigration cannot be wished away by the proponents of immigration reform, much as many of them—and particularly its Democratic backers—might like to. Indeed, Sen. Marco Rubio, a prime mover in the immigration debate, acknowledged that immigration and terror cannot be delinked. As the Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off hearings on the immigration bill, Rubio made clear that he disagreed “with those who say that the terrorist attack in Boston has no bearing on the immigration debate.” Florida’s junior senator understates, considerably and understandably.

Sadly, the facts—not unimagined fears—bear out those who view immigration reform as needing to move a step behind combating terror. Just hours after Tamarlen Tsarnaev’s predawn demise, an American-born 18-year-old from Aurora, Illinois, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport while boarding a flight to Istanbul en route to Syria to join al Qaeda. On Monday the Canadian Police arrested a Tunisian and a Jordanian, both of whom were living in Canada, in connection with a purported plot to blow up a rail link to New York.  Allegedly, the pair had received “direction and guidance” from “al Qaeda elements” located in Iran.

In an unfortunate parallel to the Tsarnaev saga, the Canadian Broadcast Corp. reported that “Canada tried nine years ago to deport Raed Jaser, one of the two men accused in the Via Rail terror plot, but authorities didn’t proceed and later granted him permanent residency.” 

Curiously, none of this news has tempered the enthusiasm of many of the immigration bill’s proponents. Notwithstanding Vice President Joe Biden’s condemnation of the Tsarnaev brothers as “knockoff jihadists,” boosters of the immigration bill seemed to place the onus of the bill’s critics, telling them to figure out what might need to be improved.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer warned that “Americans will not be satisfied with calls for delays and impediments” to the immigration bill. Schumer added that “if you have ways to improve the bill, provide amendments.”

And that’s a fair enough request. As Mitt Romney learned last November, simply saying “no” without offering an alternative to 12 million undocumented aliens and urging self-deportation is bad politics. And it remains to be seen if critics of the bill can meet Schumer’s challenge.

Since 9/11, the New York City Police Department reports that there have been 16 known terrorist plots against the city—all of them with a nexus to the Greater Middle East.

Still, it is the primary responsibility of the administration to thwart terror. That means plugging the holes in our immigration and visa system. The reality is that the family Tsarnaev received asylum and welfare, while Washington can only say that it followed procedures—which in practice meant effectively turning a blind eye to Tamarlen’s Chechnya trip and finding no need to deny his younger brother’s citizenship application.

If in the view of President Obama the shootings at Aurora and Newtown justified tougher federal gun laws—notwithstanding the 50 percent drop in the national murder rate, then it also is his obligation to spell out the remedies that are warranted in light of the actual and attempted terror attacks against America during his watch.

To offer just a few recent reminders, there was the shooting at Fort Hood by a first-generation Palestinian-American, the Christmas Day 2009 attempt to down Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by a 23-year-old Nigerian national who claimed ties to al Qaeda, and the failed attempt by a naturalized Pakistani-American to bomb Times Square.

To some, it seems that America has been more lucky than good. Following the “underwear bomber’s” failure to detonate his device aboard a flight with 290 passengers, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano grudgingly acknowledged that the system “failed miserably.”

Since 9/11, the New York City Police Department reports that there have been 16 known terrorist plots against the city—all of them with a nexus to the Greater Middle East

Proponents of the immigration bill in its current form, such as Illinois Sen. and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, assert that the immigration bill strengthens our capability to combat terror by implementing a visa tracking system, but the claim does not withstand scrutiny. Durbin neglects to mention that the immigration bill gives the government a full decade to implement visa verification—and would have done nothing to prevent the attacks on New York, Boston, Fort Hood, or Northwest Airlines.

For starters, immigration reform should be tied to the reinstatement and codification into law of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required the port-of-entry and domestic registration of noncitizens from such terror havens as Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen and mandated fingerprinting, photographing, and interrogation as a prerequisite to entry into the U.S. Adopted in 2002, NSEERS was scrapped in April 2011 by the Department of Homeland Security in favor of the already existing, less intrusive, and more politically correct U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (US-VISIT).

In contrast, US-VISIT places greater emphasis on the collection of biometric data, does not require registration, and treats entrants from all over more “equally.”

And therein rests the ugly truth. Immigrants sometimes bring more than themselves or their families. At times they also transport their grievances, and we know how that can turn out. Entry into the United States and the granting of citizenship are privileges, not rights—something we sometimes we seem to forget.