Conservatives have been desperately trying to halt the bipartisan momentum for path-to-citizenship immigration reform, and, thanks to the Boston bombing, they think they’ve finally found the perfect (phony) argument: Fear of foreign terrorism.
They contend that the bid to bring 11 million people out of the shadows should be squashed because of two ethnic Chechens. This is a textbook case of trying to exploit a tragedy for partisan gain.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was still on the loose Friday morning when Republican Senator Charles Grassley, a longtime foe of path-to-citizenship, jerked his knee and ruminated that maybe we should put reform in limbo – because it was clear (at least to him) that the Tsarnaev brothers were symptoms of “the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system.” Senate colleague Dan Coats agreed; he said on Sunday that reform should be put “on hold.” Conservative performance artist Ann Coulter agreed as well, but she naturally went further, with a snarky tweet lamenting that Dzhokar’s dead brother will never get the chance to complete his path to citizenship.
But the prize goes to Senator Rand Paul, the libertarian provocateur, who said yesterday that the Boston bombing has exposed “specific failures in our current immigration system,” failures that need to be addressed before we tackle reform. He then crafted a rhetorical question which was a masterpiece of demagoguery: “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?”
Virtually everything in that sentence is, at best, flagrantly misleading.
The Tsnarnaev brothers came to the United States as minors roughly a decade ago because their father applied for political asylum. The long-established asylum program has nothing to do with the immigration reform issues currently under consideration. Put simply, the reformers are talking apples; people like Paul are talking oranges.
Secondly, Paul got it wrong – the family didn’t emigrate from Chechnya. The father hadn’t lived there since the early ’90s. The brothers were born in nearby Kyrgyzstan, and thus were never exposed to the Chechen “hotbed of Islamic extremism.” They came here legally, through proper channels, and their radicalization didn’t commence until they had already spent years on American soil.
Which prompts me to wonder how the asylum authorities could have divined that the legally-admitted brothers (aged roughly 9 and 15 at the time) would grow up to be bombers. Perhaps Paul believes that the authorities should equip themselves with crystal balls.
But since 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.
But here’s a wild thought: Rather than trying to exploit that fear with lies and demagoguery, maybe the foes should worry a lot more about the alienated American-born lock-and-load misfits who contribute so much to the gun violence that kills 30,000 fellow Americans every year.
Yeah, I know. Dream on.
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