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Trump Attacks Family-Based Immigration in Response to Terror Attempt

Why this Response is Unwarranted and Damaging to the Nation

The most recently attempted (and fortunately botched) terror attack occurred on Monday morning, December 11th, when an Islamic State-radicalized male detonated a homemade pipe bomb in a New York City subway. Luckily, the blast did not operate as the suspect desired, resulting in him being left with burns on his stomach and only minor consequences such as headaches for bystanders. Still, this attack is nonetheless being utilized by the Trump Administration to inject some vigor into its ongoing anti-immigration agenda, most notably what the president derides as "chain migration." 

Terror Attempt Begets Attacks on Family-Based Immigration

When one looks at the details surrounding the attempt, however, in addition to the facts regarding the immigration that the president is now targeting, this may not be a sensible reaction.

The Incident and its Backlash

The suspect is a Bangladeshi immigrant by the name of Akayed Ullah, whom has reportedly been radicalized and inspired by Islamic State propaganda. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Ullah arrived in the U.S. in 2011 on a F-4 family-based visa with connection to a citizen-relative who had previously entered through the diversity visa lottery.

The lottery is a yearly program intended to promote the nation's diversity by allotting 50,000 visas to immigrants of underrepresented countries at random. Bangladesh has recently been removed from the lottery this year due to high immigration rates, but in the last two years about 8,500 individuals from the foreign nation were granted such visas. Many more were accepted through family-based immigration preferences, amounting to about 10,000 a year since 2009 and as much as 18,000 in 2016.

Mr. Ullah's attempt is the second attack taking place within New York City within the last six weeks, the first occurring in October when a 2010 visa lottery beneficiary from Uzbekistan drove a rental truck into pedestrians in what has become an Islamic State trademark, leaving eight victims dead.

President Trump has unsurprisingly seized this latest opportunity to attempt to draw support for more drastic immigration control, even going so far as to call for an end to the lottery program and retreat on the issuance of family-based visas.

“America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” he has issued in a statement. He has also continued his labeling of family-based visas as an enabling of "chain migration," a process he believes to effectively exist in which an immigrant who is allowed residential status through processes such as the visa lottery can then bring in a gaggle of relatives on his or her coattails. For the president and many of his followers, this is a gaping hole is the nation's national security and a weakness to continuing economic prosperity.

The Suspect's Background

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has explained in statements following the attack that the suspects appears to have been working alone with information from the internet, commenting that internet service providers need to do more in cooperating with each other and flag these threatening behaviors. 

Furthermore, according to CNN, Mr. Ullah is reported to have been motivated by the Israeli state's actions in Gaza. It is worth noting that President Trump had made his announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital just the week before, an action prompting global criticism and anger throughout the Middle East. This action has violated a long-standing foundation of finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and many believe it will serve only to exasperate tensions between Islamic countries and the U.S. 

These patterns, as stated by Governor Cuomo himself, seem to suggest the overwhelming trend that the suspect was radicalized within his time in the United States. This point is further emphasized by the absence of any criminal or violent history regarding the attacker. This being another case of homegrown terrorism, however, has not deterred the present administration from increasing its aggression toward such immigration policies. 

Why Attempts to Eliminate or Scale Back Immigration Programs are Unfounded

As is usually the case with the Trump Administration's rhetoric casting immigrants as "dangerous" and cumbersome to the well-being of the American people, the assumptions used are not supported by reality. No reasonable person should devalue the protection of Americans from such terrorist attempts, of course, but to target these programs is not an effective strategy and will only bring increased harm to the nation.

First, as demonstrated by recent terror attacks including Mr. Ullah's bungled bombing, most eventual terrorists are radicalized within America's borders, and therefore it should not be assumed that vetted prospective immigrants from outside countries are in any way dangerous. Greater efforts should thus be focused on efforts to prevent radicalization and attack plans originating at home rather than targeting immigrants whom, according to all reasonable assumption, hold no malice toward the U.S. A more meaningful strategy would be to invest increased funds into efforts such as urban terrorism prevention programs, rather than slash them as the president has previously proposed.

The Chain Migration Myth

Second, family-based visas are not a blanket acceptance letter for all of an immigrant's relatives to ride freely into the U.S. The program only applies to close family members of American citizens such as spouses, children, parents and siblings. Extended family such as cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and the like are not considered eligible.

Adding to this point is the notorious backlog in processing for family visas dues to the limited number available to be approved every year. In many cases it takes a few years or sometimes decades to sponsor even the closest of family members. While this idea of "chain migration" may make intuitive sense to some, a quick observation of the facts will show that it is certainly a myth not based in reality. 

Another established utility that is continuously either ignored or erroneously rejected by the current administration is the benefit that a flow of immigration brings to the American people. Immigrants fulfill the needs of many businesses that often cannot be supplied solely by the current American population and are also more likely to found businesses themselves than those who are native-born, compounding into an overwhelming economic benefit that will be degraded if the government continues to place obstacles to this vital resource.

These family-based immigrants and their businesses catalyze innovation in the country. Over half of the new companies permeating Silicon Valley were founded by immigrants, many of whom were allowed in the U.S. through family-based visas. 

Moreover, these immigrants are not siphoning the system and taxpayer money as many like to suggest. The truth is actually closer to the opposite, as low-income non-citizen adults and children use public benefits less than native-born citizens and credible economic research has demonstrated that immigrants pay more into the system than they receive in return.

Given this evidence as to the reality of immigration's effects on America, it can be substantively concluded that the net benefit favors increased immigration if anything, and certainly not less. 

In Respect to Protecting American Values

Keeping families, and especially immediate members for that matter, separate is an inarguable violation of American principles. The current administration's demagogic assault with disparaging claims of "chain migration" unsupported by evidence is just another facet of its overarching agenda to weaken these American-held values. For the moral and economic future of the nation, it is paramount that such baseless claims not be given into.

A Nation of Immigrants

Families deserve to remain united no matter where they're from, and American businesses and industry within the United States as a whole need immigrants to fuel the innovative and productive edge that has kept the U.S. at the forefront of the world stage for the last century. As a nation descended from the labor of immigrants that built this country, it isn't too difficult a task to see that our continued growth continues to rest on their shoulders, as well as our own.