Heather Mac Donald
April 26, 2013

The proponents of the Senate immigration amnesty bill are right about one thing: The recent Boston mayhem is largely irrelevant to immigration reform. It’s unrealistic to think that immigration officials should have divined the young Tsarnaev brothers’ future homicidal plans when the family’s asylum application was accepted in 2002 or even in 2007, when family members gained legal permanent-resident status. Perhaps the FBI’s interview with Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 for possible connections to Chechen terrorists should have stalled his younger brother Dzhokhar’s receipt of U.S. citizenship in 2012, but at least the Department of Homeland Security put Tamerlan’s own citizenship application on hold for further review, in light of the earlier FBI inquiry. If there was a government failure here, it would appear to have been the FBI’s, not the DHS’s, but more facts need to come out before reaching even that conclusion.

True, the asylum and refugee programs—a relatively small subset of legal immigration—suffer from fraud, but that fraud overwhelmingly consists of faking a basis for asylum, not covering up terrorist intentions. We can expect fraud to be an enormous problem in the proposed amnesty process, as it was in the 1986 amnesty, but it, too, will be largely concerned with manufacturing eligibility rather than with concealing terror plans. There is plenty to scrutinize in the Senate’s bill without alleging an exaggerated risk of terrorism, and it would be a mistake for skeptical senators to make national security a centerpiece of their inquiry. As horrific as every terror attack is, the incidence of domestic terrorism and the percentage of immigrants who commit it remain extremely low. The risks in the proposed amnesty law relate rather to America’s core immigration problem: the mass illegal entry of uneducated, unskilled aliens who pose no terror threat but who have a concrete effect on our educational and economic competitiveness.

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