Boston and the Immigration Debate: A National Security Perspective

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Boston and the Immigration Debate: A National Security Perspective

“Americans will reject any attempt to tie the losers responsible for the attacks in Boston with the millions of law-abiding immigrants currently living in the US”
– Alex Conant, spokesman for Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), April 19, 2013

 The identification of the two suspects in the Boston bombings as refugees of Chechen descent who entered the United States legally seeking asylum has thrown terrorism and national security into the spotlight of the debate over immigration reform. Basic facts that were true about immigration and national security yesterday are still true today:  experts across ideologies agree there is no definitive correlation between immigration and crime. The U.S. asylum process is extremely rigorous and most applicants are denied. Bipartisan leaders stress, in the words of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL): “immigration reform that strengthens our borders and gives us a better accounting of who is in our country and why will improve our national security.”

There is no definitive correlation between the number of immigrants and the occurrence of crime. The claim that immigrants drive up crime rates is not supported by statistics. Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Reform, stated “There’s no evidence that immigrants — or even illegal immigrants — are necessarily any more or less likely to be committing crimes than the population at large. It’s just that they tend to be associated with certain types of crimes — drug trafficking, for example” – notably, not mass murder. [Jessica Vaughan via NPR, 3/8/13. 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 9/12]

The U.S. asylum application process is rigorous, and most applicants are denied. To be granted asylum, a person must qualify as a refugee and prove that they have been persecuted or encountered serious physical harm or have a legitimate fear that they either will happen if they return to their home country on the basis of race, religion, political opinion, social group, or nationality. Of the 86,053 applicants for asylum in 2012, only 29% were granted asylum. It is also important to note that if the asylum seeker is the spouse or child of an individual who is inadmissible within the past 5-years, then by association, the asylum seeker is inadmissible. [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Petra Cahill, 4/17/13]   

Bipartisan leaders reaffirmed that immigration reform will in fact improve our national security. A spokesman for Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said “Regardless of the circumstances in Boston, immigration reform that strengthens our borders and gives us a better accounting of who is in our country and why will improve our national security. Americans will reject any attempt to tie the losers responsible for the attacks in Boston with the millions of law-abiding immigrants currently living in the US and those hoping to immigrate here in the future.” At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the new immigration reform legislation, Senator Chuck Schumer asked “that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston, not conflate those events with this legislation… In general we are a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their finger prints, photos, etc., conducted background checks.” Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) added “what is indisputable, is that we have an immigration system that is broken; that we have an immigration system that is not working… And what is clear is the system we have not only is… it’s also threatening the national security of our country. [Alex Conant via Daily Caller, 4/19/13, Chuck Schumer via Politico, 4/19/13. Mario Diaz-Balart via Miami Herald, 4/19/13]

There is also support from the national security community for immigration reform. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated at a Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing that, “We know that our immigration system is out of date and badly in need of reform. Our law enforcement, our economy, our workforce, and our communities are suffering and frustrated by current patchwork of laws and requirements that make up this system. The current system forces law enforcement to spend as much time, if not more, going after those who pose little risk to the United States as it does criminals and drug smugglers and human traffickers.” Additionally, Colin Powell also addressed the need for immigration reform saying, “The truth is that the policies with which we greet immigrants are, in important ways, self-fulfilling. If we reach out, if we help, they will respond in kind. We can each embrace each other. We can do that, or we can embitter and disappoint immigrants by treating them as a security threat or as just a servant class.”  [Secretary Napolitano, 2/13/2013. Colin Powell, 2/05/2009]

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