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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Immigration, Asylum Reform and the New Terrorism

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The situation is still developing in Boston.  As of this writing, one terrorist is dead; another is on the loose, and a third man-dubbed "an accomplice"-is in police custody. There are still many unanswered questions about the men's motivation and what connections, if any, they have to other terrorists. One thing we do now know is that the two men who placed the bombs are from Chechnya.


Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation. It has been seeking independence since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The state is majority Muslim and the war against Russia has attracted radical Islamists and has helped radicalize some of the indigenous population. The Russian government has committed terrible atrocities in Chechnya, and Chechen separatists are some of the most evil terrorists around (their worst attack came in 2004, when they took an entire school hostage-in the end, over 380 people were killed, including many, many children).


We still do not know if the Boston attack was somehow related to the conflict in Chechnya, but here are some things we do know: The two bombers were brothers who came to the United States legally with their family. The older brother has been a lawful permanent resident since 2007. At least one brother had a driver's license (apparently, investigators used facial recognition software to help match a photo of the man with his driver's license). The younger brother attended school in the U.S., at least since the seventh grade.


One question is how they obtained legal status here? Slate reports that the family escaped the war in Chechnya and went to Kazakhstan and then came to the U.S. as refugees. If this is correct, it will raise questions about the U.S refugee program. I have discussed this issue before, and perhaps will revisit the question once we have more information.


Another question is whether the men were sent here to commit terrorist acts? If it is correct that the brothers have been LPRs since 2007, it seems unlikely that they were sent to the U.S. to engage in terrorist acts. Once a refugee arrives in the U.S., he can become an LPR after one year. This means that the brothers-ages 26 and 19-must have been here since at least 2006. In 2006, they would have been ages 19 and 12. I doubt they could have been sent here at those ages with the idea that they would attack U.S. targets years later. It seems more likely that they somehow got involved in terrorism while in the United States. 


A final questions (for now), is how the revelation that the attackers were Chechen will affect the debate over immigration and asylum reform. I have no doubt that opponents of reform will use the attack to try to derail any new law. But on the other hand, when something like this happens, it is perfectly legitimate to raise security concerns. On this point, I would offer a few observations:


- Immigration reform brings otherwise invisible people out of the shadows. If we legalize people who have been here for years, we learn more about those people. One of the Boston terrorists was identified, in part, because he had a driver's license. If he was living here illegally, he might not appear in any state or federal database. Thus, legalization reduces the number of unknown people and helps us know more about the people who are here.


- Second, if we are worried about terrorists within our foreign-born populations, we should encourage people within those communities to cooperate and trust law enforcement officials. If foreigners without legal status are afraid of law enforcement, it is less likely that they will cooperate with government investigations. If such people have a path to lawful status, they will be less afraid, and thus more likely to cooperate.


- Finally, the vast majority of immigrants and asylees are law abiding. Many of my asylum-seeker clients have worked closely with the U.S. military in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. They have risked their lives to fight terrorists and extremists. Punishing and stigmatizing such people, and hundreds of thousands of other law-abiding foreigners, for the actions of two or three terrorists is simply wrong. And, in a country premised on individual rights and responsibilities, it is un-American.


In the coming days and weeks, we will learn much more about the terrorists, their motivation, and how they got to the U.S. We will also learn how the attack will impact the debate over immigration reform. While national security issues should certainly be a part of this debate, I hope that the attack will not destroy the hopes of thousands of good, law abiding immigrants.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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