Let us not be scared away from overhauling the nation’s immigration laws by the paranoid fantasies conjured out of the debris of the Boston bombings.
Let’s make sure to use caution as the Justice Department proceeds with its case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Let us be vigilant against using the specter of what we might think he stands for as emblematic of all immigrants.
Mr. Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen, was not one of the 11 million immigrants who are on the sidelines awaiting their fate and the opportunity to become full participants in the good and bad the United States has to offer. He came to the United States as a child and became a naturalized American citizen as a teenager.
Some lawmakers, however, are portraying him as though he embodies each and every immigrant on our shores. The image of Mr. Tsarnaev and the limited understanding of his political thinking — mostly gleaned from friends, relatives and social media (and we know how accurate those sources are, right?) — is clouding Senate hearings on a bipartisan immigration proposal.
Immigration reform opponents have concluded, cynically, that the Senate should not proceed with reform because Mr. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, described themselves as Islamic, came here from Russia and wrote about being social outcasts.
That’s not a reason. It’s an excuse for xenophobia.
From all indications, the Tsarnaev brothers, particularly the older one, were politically disaffected — as are a lot of native-born Americans. If the brothers’ problems indeed were with Russia and Chechnya, it’s unclear why they lashed out at the United States. In other respects their profiles fit those of other home and foreign-born mass murderers who have visited tragedy on our nation: disaffected, troubled and socially isolated young men with access to weapons.
Whatever failure there was lies not with the immigration system, but with the FBI’s failure to follow through on a CIA request — made after tips from Russian intelligence agencies — to put Tamerlan Tsarnaev on a terrorist watchlist. That might have kept him off commercial airliners, but it doesn’t mean he would have been monitored 24 hours a day.
Let us not forget that they entered the country legally. They came in 2002, when Dzhokhar was 9 and his brother was about 15, under an asylum petition filed by their father.
Since there isn’t much traction to be had from the brothers’ immigration status, some conservatives are getting riled over their ethnic heritage.
No less an authority than Phyllis Schlafly, the proud matron of the Eagle Forum who managed decades ago to demonize the Equal Rights Amendment, is calling for reinstatement of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Really, Mrs. Schlafly? From your house in Ladue, Mo. you want to bring back the committee that used fear to blight our nation, spied on private citizens, created the Hollywood blacklist and was denounced by former President Harry S. Truman as “the most un-American thing in the country today.”
Mrs. Schlafly begins a rant on her website about the Boston bombings by writing that the United States should not have admitted the Tsarnaev family in the first place because their son was named Tamerlan.
“That should have been a red alert because that is the name of one of the world’s notorious mass murderers, a 14th-century Central Asian warlord named Tamerlan, who killed about 17 million people,” she wrote.
By these standards, anyone named Joe would prompt a red-alert. No more Stalin fans. God forbid anyone named Adolf should try to get in. The Crusades resulted in the deaths of millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews, and Louis IX of France organized one of them (although he nearly got his entire army wiped out). Maybe we should rename St. Louis.
Supporters of immigration reform, such as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said the bill will strengthen border security by adding $8.5 billion for that purpose.
The bill also makes it easier for more skilled workers to reach citizenship, but isn’t exactly a cakewalk for the unauthorized immigrants already here. It will take many of them 13 years to reach that point, and anyone who arrived here after Dec. 31, 2011, would be ineligible.
The last time the nation’s immigration laws were revamped was in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that made citizens out of some 3 million unauthorized immigrants.
With momentum high for this bipartisan measure, which is flawed but a step in the right direction, let’s not be deterred from moving forward by a tragedy that had nothing to do with immigration.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.