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Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombings Should Not Figure Into Immigration Debate

Article first published as Boston Marathon Bombings Should Not Figure Into Immigration Debate on Blogcritics.

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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