As the country continues to reel over the attacks in Boston last week, some in Washington quickly looked for ways to use the attacks to justify their political goals on border security and immigration reform.
On both sides of the aisle, politicians and commentators were quick to assert that the fact that the two suspected bombers were immigrants was reason enough to call for changes to everything, from border security and stricter background checks to amnesty.
It’s unfortunate that people are trying to spin the tragic events in Boston to advance their legislative agendas, but it’s also falling into an emotional trap—the Boston attackers should not be the focus of this immigration debate.
Thus far, the emotional and political arguments haven’t made much sense. A couple of key facts:
- The Tsarnaev brothers didn’t sneak across the border to get into the United States, nor were they here illegally.
- None of the “new security” measures in the Senate immigration bill, such as biometric exit, would have helped us to better track the terrorists. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security admits it knew when the older Tsarnaev brother left the country to travel to Chechnya and Dagestan. In other words, the existing system worked.
At the same time, we don’t know whether the Tsarnaevs were radicalized before immigrating here or while already living in the United States. Any attempt to argue that because of Boston, we need to strengthen our immigration measures so that we have a better idea of “who is here” is simply getting ahead of the facts.
As always, the best way to prevent attacks is to make sure our intelligence and law enforcement have the tools they need to stop terrorists long before the public is in danger. Tragically, this was not the case in Boston—an unfortunate reminder of the fact that no matter how good our counterterrorism efforts are, we will never be able to stop every threat. Nevertheless, our intelligence and law enforcement know what they are doing. Indeed, their actions have been vital in thwarting most of the 54 Islamist terrorist plots foiled since 9/11.
As Heritage’s E. W. Richardson Fellow, Jim Carafano, explained:
Good immigration and border security policies play an important, but supporting role. Generally, the rule is if you have good policies that facilitate legal immigration and travel while providing for public safety and security—they will serve well to help thwart terrorist travel.
Ultimately, getting trapped in a debate about whether comprehensive immigration reform will help or hurt us in thwarting terrorism will get us nowhere. After more than a decade of living in the post-9/11 world, we don’t need a terrorist attack to tell us the right approach to countering terrorism. Nor do we need one to remind us of the flaws of comprehensive immigration reform. Both of these speak for themselves.
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