Friday, April 19, 2013

Will Boston Derail Immigration Reform?

Details are starting to trickle in about the two suspects that authorities believe are responsible for the horrific incident during the Boston Marathon. One of the suspects, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is a national of Kyrgyzstan who became an American citizen last year. The other suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, emigrated to the United States as well. He was killed last night in a shootout with police.

The potential for immigrants to commit crimes is always an argument made by anti-immigration groups as a justification for limiting immigration. Conversely, immigration proponents would rather highlight the vast majority of immigrants who contribute to society and do not engage in illegal behavior. They argue that the actions of a few do not provide a justification for curtailing immigration.

The debate becomes less abstract (and initially more emotionally driven) when a specific horrific incident is linked to someone who is not a U.S. national. Between lax immigration and security, the pendulum naturally swings toward security.

We saw this after 9/11. After it was discovered that at least one of the hijackers had obtained asylum, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which, among other things, sought to tighten up the asylum system. But time passed and the pendulum has slowly begun to swing away (slightly) from security; the asylum grant rates are now holding steady at around fifty percent.

So what will the reaction be now? The Boston Marathon details will certainly galvanize those who are opposed to the comprehensive immigration reform proposal unveiled earlier this week. And security concerns will cause a segment of the population to question the current proposal.

This horrific incident should remind everyone that security is a broader concept than border security. It also serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as 100 percent effective security measures.

For every 100,000 immigrants that Congress proposes to legalize, there will inevitably be a few bad apples - just as there are outside the immigrant community. The question is, do the security risks posed by these bad apples outweigh the social, economic, and humanitarian value that the vast number of immigrants contribute to the United States?


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