Post-Boston, the main policy question is whether immigration reform will take a hit.
Kevin Drum fears so:
A few days ago, someone asked: Who are you secretly hoping the bombers turn out to be? My answer was, whatever kind of person is least likely to have any effect whatsoever on public policy. Chechnyans with a grudge of some kind actually fit this bill fairly well, and since the immigration debate is focused mostly on Mexico it might not even have too much impact there. Still, it will have some effect. I don’t know if today’s news will kill immigration reform, but a bill that was on a knife edge already doesn’t need any further setbacks. This is going to hurt its chances.
Matt Steinglass nods:
[R]ationally or not, terrorism involving foreigners in America has always been linked to immigration politics.
The first push to restrict immigration in the 20th century got started after anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley; he wasn’t even an immigrant himself, his parents were, but it was enough to prompt Teddy Roosevelt to ask congress to bar “the coming to this country of anarchists or persons professing principles hostile to all government”. The resulting Anarchist Exclusion Act of 1903, and the Immigration Act of 1918 which expanded its authority, didn’t end up actually kicking out more than a few dozen people. And the 1924 Immigration Act, which really did lead to a drastic cutback in immigration, was based on quotas by race and country of origin rather than ideology.
But the political discourse supporting immigration restrictions has always leaned heavily on supposed threats of violence, both criminal and ideological. A couple of immigrant ideological terrorists, running around Massachusetts killing people—the last time the media got hold of a story like this, Sacco and Vanzetti … were sentenced to death, and four years later immigration to America was cut to a trickle.
It’s hard to see how tighter immigration laws could have stopped the Tsarnaevs from entering the country:
At the time that the Tsarnaevs applied for asylum, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar were very young. There was almost certainly nothing in their background that would have raised any red flags; apparently, there was nothing in the father’s either. Here, [David Leopold of Leopold and Associates, an immigration attorney who’s been practicing law in Cleveland since the early 1990s,] made a key point: “You can’t predict future behavior.” For any democratic country that wants to participate in international society, Leopold pointed out, you have to assume some level of risk. Despite that, “the systems they have in place,” meaning those security screenings, are “doing the job.”