Stephanie Surface analyses political reactions and the impact on US immigration legislation
On the 15th of April, terrorists struck on US home soil for the first time since 9/11 (excluding the 2009 shooting of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood by a radicalized Islamic army psychiatrist). Two bombs exploded at the finishing line of the annual Boston Marathon, killing three and maiming two hundred and sixty four people. As the attack happened to coincide with ‘Tax Day’, the date by which annual income tax submissions are due, the liberal media immediately pointed the finger at the Tea Party, expecting (hoping?) that a disgruntled “right-winger” was behind the bomb plot.
Amateur video footage and pictures of various suspicious men were published within hours on the Internet. Some amateur sleuths mistakenly posted images of a dark skinned young man, who later turned out to be a Brown University student and a US citizen of Indian parentage. Tragically, this young man, apparently already suffering from depression, seemed to have been pushed over the edge by this ‘exposure.’ He was later found dead in Providence River.
The FBI officially released pictures taken by security cameras outside a department store which showed two young men in baseball hats and rucksacks and asked the public to help identify them. Several days later in a shoot-out on the MIT campus, a police officer and one of the suspects was killed. The terrorists were identified as Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and it was reported that the younger, Dzhokhar, had escaped. Boston was placed under a curfew and heavily armored vehicles, more fitting for a military maneuver than a manhunt, converged on the suburban neighborhood of Watertown accompanied by heavy-handed house searches by scores of police officers. The surviving terrorist was found, not by this immense paramilitary presence, but by the courtesy of a homeowner checking the loose tarp of his boat where the injured Dzhokhar was hiding. It was reported that to get him out of the boat, over two hundred rounds of ammunition were fired.
This Rambo-esque melodrama was swiftly followed by heated debates on US immigration policy, framed by political bias. Left-leaning journalists and President Obama refused to call the bombers “Islamist terrorists”, many in the media describing them as kids unable to fit into American society, which left them easy prey for radicalism. They made no reference to America’s immigrants who, by and large, have fitted in pretty well.
The right-leaning media immediately called for tougher immigration laws. Journalist Ann Coulter listed in her blog murders committed by illegal immigrants–a rather blatant instance of context-dropping when one considers that, on an average day in Chicago and Detroit, at least four people are shot by US citizens. Prominent Republicans who gave support to a more balanced immigration policy, such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, were singled out for criticism by their own party. Rubio is one of the “The Gang of Eight”, a bi-partisan group of Senators tackling the problem of integrating eleven million illegal immigrants and at the same time finding a better way to secure the US borders to keep criminal elements out.
The GOP remains a party deeply divided after losing two consecutive presidential elections. Although broadly aligned on fiscal and economic issues, it cannot converge on a coherent social and immigration agenda. 76% of illegal immigrants are Hispanics, often living with their legal immigrant families. They are, for the most part, hard-working, economically self-reliant and family-orientated. They should be fertile ground for the GOP. As Ronald Reagan said: “Latinos are natural Republicans, they just don’t know it yet”.
The Latino population is the fastest growing minority in the US. They now account for 10% of the electorate and their vote was key to Obama’s re-election, especially in the battle-ground states of Nevada, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. In the 2012 election Obama received 71% of the Hispanic vote compared to Romney’s 27%. Even George Bush achieved 44% of their vote when he won the election for the White House. During the most recent campaign, Obama vowed to tackle the long overdue Immigration Bill while Romney alienated many Latinos by suggesting “self-deportation”. A GOP strategist said after the loss of yet another election: “If we battle with the Hispanics we will be out of the White House forever.”
In the wake of the Boston Bombing, GOP wobbling on immigration has worsened. Rand Paul who had previously said: “If you work, we will find a place [for you] in the American society”, started back-peddling. He is now actively fighting the proposals by the “Gang of Eight”; he wants assurances that people from “hotbeds of Islamic extremism” will be refused and although committed to an immigration reform, he wants ” first to secure the borders and also secure taxpayer’s money from the Welfare State”, both points certainly picked up by the “Gang of Eight’s” proposal anyway.
Part of the fierce opposition to new immigration laws is also cross-border drug-smuggling which causes havoc across Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Farmers along these Mexican border states face increased trespassing and violent attacks, but it is absolute impossible to erect a non-porous Chinese Wall along the thousands of miles of this border.
In the end the most important question for the US is how to protect herself from future terrorist outrages. It strikes me that this is not an illegal immigration issue. The Tsarnaevs were children when they arrived in the US–legally–and Dzhokar was a US citizen. The jury is still out how they became radical jihadists. But the failure of existing home security is clear, as the FBI and the CIA, though warned about the older brother by Russian agencies two years ago, seemed not to have followed up on this information: apparently they didn’t even have Tamerlan’s profile on their database.
The US is a nation of immigrants, which is the source of its vibrant cultural diversity. As long as America doesn’t become an overblown welfare state, the lesson of the Boston Bombing should be not to erect futile thick walls around the country and in time of crisis restrict the freedoms of her citizens, but to sharpen the nation’s ability to find internal the terrorists before they find their targets.