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Boston Marathon Bombings Should Not Figure Into Immigration Debate

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The terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon spawned nefarious plots and ploys in a relatively brief time. Despicable people immediately tried to capitalize on the horror by setting up Internet scams to suck in those grieving and those sympathetic to the victims and their families. This is how things work in our modern oh-so-connected world; unfortunately, people will always chase ambulances and we are not going to change that.

The same thing happened after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Hurricane Sandy, and 9/11. We want to believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, and what Anne Frank wrote that despite all that madness around her that people are really good at heart, but there will always be those who are out to prove us wrong again and again.

Now, as the nationwide debate about immigration continues and Congress considers reform of policies, there are those saying that the Boston bombings are a red flag – we should not consider offering approximately 11 million immigrants already in the United States a chance to become citizens – because citizenship does not necessarily mean loyalty to the United States as in the case of Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev (19) and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26), who are suspects in the bombings that killed three people and injured many others.

There is a problem with this kind of thinking because those brothers entered the country as children. It would be nearly impossible to say at that time of entry that they would become homegrown terrorists. The opponents of immigration reform use this as an example of limiting or prohibiting immigration. We could expect as much from these people who have an isolationist mentality and would like to seal off the borders to all newcomers or limit entry to just a select few.

Sadly, they are forgetting about that lady in the harbor south of New York City. The Statue of Liberty has been a beacon to the “huddled masses” yearning for the freedom to be found in America. Everyone who is a citizen has come from someplace else (even Native Americans originally came across a land bridge over the Bering Strait). We are a nation of immigration, born of elsewhere, but we mix into the glorious pot creating a spectacular brew that is unique yet unified.

Make no mistake – Americans are other! We are not the same because we were engineered to be different. Each wave of immigration brought something new to our shores that helped build the country. Yes, there were problems for many of those people, prejudices to overcome, and a language to be learned, but that only made our country stronger. People could practice their religions, speak their own languages, and try to build their own version of the American dream. No, it was not always easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever simply achieved.

Now we have those who want to use the Boston bombings to their advantage. Some will argue that there should be no new immigrants, while others will want to stop the ones already here from gaining citizenship. I guess this should have been expected, but the argument doesn’t make sense. With millions of immigrants already here, we get very rare cases of them ever being involved in a terrorist incident like the one in Boston. In fact, the rarity of such occurrences should stoke the fires of immigration reform. Most of those 11 million immigrants currently just want a piece of American pie, however small, and wish to be citizens because they genuinely want to belong here as did all those who came before them.

In Congress there are those only too ready to jump on the ambulance chasing bandwagon. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is on the committee for immigration, has come out to say that the bombings should be a factor in the ongoing debate about immigration reform. He and others in Congress will try to move the logic of immigration reform based on the American tradition and history and use the bombings as a way to push for tighter borders and more stringent regulations to get into and stay in the country.

What is worrisome is that this detour should never have been considered, but the bombings give these detractors an opening. They believe they are patriots, but true patriots do not try to stop others from becoming part of the country. They are using the moment to their advantage, and the public (understandably nervous after the Boston attacks) may be susceptible to some of these arguments based on fear. If we allow the bombings to influence the discourse regarding immigration reform, it would be a sad day for America because it may cause people to forget the essence of what built this nation.

Anyone who was watching the Boston Red Sox game on Saturday probably got caught up in the feeling of patriotism and love of country and city. When Neil Diamond stepped onto that field and sang “Sweet Caroline,” even I forgot I was a Mets fan from New York and wished I was a Bosox fan. Similarly, there are millions of people looking in from the outside who envy that kind of fervor, who wish to be a part of the glorious mix that is America. How can we turn them away when we all came from other shores? How can we not live up to the words of Emma Lazarus that appear at the Statue of Liberty, lift up the lamp, and welcome them to come inside the golden door?

Photo credits: Ellis Island-scholastic.com; Statue of Liberty-uscitizenpod.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.
  • Dr Dreadful

    And yet ghettoization is not inevitable.

    In my native UK, while immigrants and their descendants do tend to concentrate in certain areas (e.g. Southall in London for Indians, Moss Side in Manchester for people of Caribbean extraction), those neighbourhoods are by no means exclusively brown: quite different from the case in many American cities.

    Furthermore, immigrant families very often don’t stay in those neighbourhoods. On the street I grew up on, in a moderately genteel south London suburb, there were non-white families moving in for almost as long as I can remember.

  • Isolation is not unusual. My wife and I have lived in the Republic of Panama for about a decade. The Gringos (very infrequently used here as a term of disparagement) here do tend to isolate themselves — due to language, cultural preferences and for other reasons.

    Getting to reside here lawfully is quite difficult and costs money. Criminal background checks, medical examinations and proof of an adequate source of income from outside Panama, such as a monthly Social Security check, are mandatory, for example, and there are many other requirements. Once satisfied, an “indefinite” residence visa is issued. Working in the Panamanian economy is prohibited and if one is found to have done so, expulsion is likely.

    There are other differences. Most Gringos here have no intentions of becoming — or desires to do so –Panamanian citizens, the route to which is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. Most are content to live in their own (often gated, upscale) communities with little if any contact with the “locals” other than maids, gardeners and shop clerks. Gringos cannot lawfully participate in Panamanian politics — contributing to or otherwise supporting candidates is contrary to law.

    Gringos here neither receive nor are entitled to “welfare” benefits. We pay taxes as do the “locals.” Should we fail to do so, we are subjected to the same penalties.

    We live in a very rural area up in the mountains (about 3,000 feet A.M.S.L) of Western Panama. Nearly all of our neighbors are Panamanian and (largely due to my wife, Jeanie, who learned Spanish while a student at the University of Mexico many years ago) our relationship is quite amicable. That’s the way we prefer it. However, since Panamanian politics seem even more difficult to comprehend than politics in the United States, we have no interest in participating in them and would not do so even if lawful.

  • Baronius

    An op-ed in yesterday’s NYT discusses this issue.

  • Les Slater

    But Glenn, sometimes it’s not safe to go into some neighborhoods. And, of course it’s note safe for those living there either.

    The ghettoization of communities is a consequence of economic inequalities that are inherent in class divided society.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    The ‘isolated communities’ are quite natural – when you’re a stranger in a strange land, it’s quite normal to look for those who understand who you are and where you came from. You can see the proof of this in any city where there’s a “Little Italy” or a “Chinatown” – they didn’t get those names by accident.

    And it’s not just immigrants – in most cities there’s the “black part of town” or “down in the barrio” or the “other side of the tracks”, and let’s not forget “white flight”. This is just normal human psychology at work. Thankfully, there’s enough of us who don’t mind the mixing of the races that the borders are quite porous and flexible…and often ignored.

  • Baronius

    I mean isolation in the sense of Balkanization, forming isolated communities in their new country. Every wave of immigration does this to some extent, but we don’t seem to be doing anything to encourage assimilation.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    Often, we’re seeing isolationism among new immigrants, the kind of isolationism that is the opposite of assimilation.

    Do you have a reference for this? I ask because I know a lot of immigrants and used to work for immigration and I’ve seen very little isolationism among them; if anything, it’s the opposite since they’re so eager to bring their families here, too.

  • roger nowosielski


    “If we’re getting so bad at assimilation that newcomers are becoming homegrown terrorists, then yes, this incident has something important to tell us about immigration policy.”

    Alternatively, and I like this interpretation much better, it tells us of America as a wasteland.

  • roger nowosielski

    Must have been on an extended vacation, Les.

  • Les Slater

    I consider Baronius’ response reasonable but I too am concerned about the fallout. It has already gone well beyond the immigration issue.

    We should reflect on what has been revealed. All the anti-democratic measures we have been subject to have not prevented this outrage. On the contrary it shows how easy it was carried out. It also revealed that with a minimal attempt at disguise the perpetrators could very well have slipped away without being identified.

  • Baronius

    This reminds me of Dr. Strangelove – “I, uh, don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.”

    Immigration is a complicated issue. It seems fair to at least consider which aspects of it are going wrong. I understand that you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we have every right to consider this case.

    Speaking of which – the immigration bill is 844 pages. Now, it might be 844 pages of brilliance, every word being exactly what the nation needs, but we should take the time to review it. Bill like this tend to suddenly grow in size a few days before their passage. We’re not dealing in generalities here.

    So, what lessons could we take from the Boston incident that we could apply to immigration? Well, you refer to opponents of the bill as isolationist. That raises an interesting point. Often, we’re seeing isolationism among new immigrants, the kind of isolationism that is the opposite of assimilation. And it’s fair to ask, have we lost sight of the value of assimilation, or are we increasing our population to such an extent that assimilation is impossible? The two Chechnyans who did this, as you noted, came here as kids. If we’re getting so bad at assimilation that newcomers are becoming homegrown terrorists, then yes, this incident has something important to tell us about immigration policy.