By now, everyone knows the general outlines of the Tsarnaev family’s migration from the former Soviet Union to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Boston Marathon bombing. But the details exemplify most of the major flaws with our immigration system: we are too hospitable to refugees, we allow family members to reunite once one is here, and we still refuse to face the truth about young Muslim males.
Asylum is the status given to refugees, people seeking protection from persecution by their native country because of race, religion, ethnicity or “membership in a social group.” According to media reports, Anzor Tsarnev, the father of the bombers, entered the U.S. on a 90-day tourist visa in 2002, and then, when it had expired, sought asylum. Thus, his visa was obtained by fraud. He used the pretext of tourism to gain entry to the U.S. so he could make his asylum claim at a later time. Had the U.S. embassy in Russia known his true intentions, it would have been precluded from issuing him a tourist visa.
For some as of yet unknown reason, Mr. Tsarnaev, a Muslim, was granted asylum in 2002. Recall that was just months after 9/11, and we had severely curtailed all immigration by Muslims. (This episode demonstrates that it still unsafe to admit any young Muslim men to the U.S. because we simply cannot and will not monitor their lives to screen out radical jihadists.) Moreover, he was not really a refugee. Muslims were not “persecuted” in Russia. Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan, then part of the Soviet Union, and now an independent country with a Muslim majority. So he could have returned there, and did so after he married. And he apparently also had a Russian passport which would have enabled him to live in that country’s Muslim regions of Chechnya (where his family was originally from) or Dagestan, where his wife was from.
Somehow, Mr. Tsarnaev also managed to obtain asylum for his wife and two sons (their two other children did not enter the country, suggesting they lived safely back in Russia and undermining the entire claim for asylum). Over the years, they had brushes with police in Massachusetts and, as we are learning, obtained generous welfare benefits from that state and the federal government (food stamps), despite the U.S. law prohibiting public assistance to immigrants. (The law was enacted in 1996 to prevent precisely what occurred here, making our welfare state a magnet for refugees and other immigrants.) Mrs. Tsarnaev was arrested for shoplifting dresses from Lord & Taylor. Her legal defense was likely financed by the taxpayers. She absconded, returning to Dagestan, before trial. Son Tamerlan was arrested for assault and battery on his girlfriend in 2009.
His younger brother, Dzhokhar, actually obtained U.S. citizenship, but Tamerlan’s application was denied. Yet he was apparently given lawful residency (perhaps even a green card), despite this entire history of fraud, criminality and, as we know, incubating jihadism, which federal authorities should easily have detected by the simple fact that Tamerlan’s American-born wife converted to Islam, became estranged from her family, and began to dress in traditional Muslim garb.
In 2011, the Russian government, detecting links between Tamerlan to jihadist groups, took the unusual step of warning the U.S. government about the aspiring citizen. . Both the F.B.I. and C.I.A. investigated him and found nothing awry. Yesterday, the President said he stood by the job the agencies had done. Even the brief narrative I have laid out here should have given the F.B.I. cause to suspect Tamerlan of harboring jihadist sympathies. And as a non-citizen, he could have been removed without a criminal conviction or even proof he may have convicted a crime. It’s not a crime to associate with extreme Muslim groups, but it certainly ought to result in the end of one’s asylum status or temporary residency. Technically, the law allows summary removal of asylees if a condition for their asylum is no longer present or they are a national security threat. Both were evident in Tamerlan’s case in 2011.
Anyone who believes, as the President does, that the immigration system served the nation well with regard to the Tsarnaev family has some explaining to do. How did the U.S. benefit from letting these people into the country? I think the entire immigration system failed us and our adherence to hospitality for supposed refugees and their civil liberties is verging on the suicidal. If “immigration reform” is needed, it should be constructed around preventing this case from recurring.