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In the wake of the devastating terror attack that left eight dead in New York City, President Donald Trump called for tighter immigration measures; he recommended Congress to ‘immediately’ end the visa program that allowed the Uzbek immigrant, who was charged for the attack, to enter the country.
The visa that allowed the accused, Sayfullo Saipov, to enter the country was the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. The program is aimed at bringing diversity by taking in individuals from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or two years of work experience, but they do not need a sponsor. If selected, immigrants undergo a background check before receiving a green card, allocating them permanent residency.
Since his election, President Trump has been vocal about wanting to limit immigration, particularly from countries that are predominantly Muslim. Following the attack, he also tweeted “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already extreme vetting program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
The immediate question that arises from President Trump’s postulations is: “is there a high risk of an immigrant being a terrorist? And, even if there is, should there be a moratorium on all immigrants?”
The Cato Institute published a report in 2016 analyzing the risks associated with terrorism and immigration. The report states that from 1975-2015, out of 1.14 billion visas issued by the U.S. government, only 154 of these were allocated to terrorists. To put that in perspective, that is only 0.0000136 percent, or as the report states “one foreign-born terrorist entered the United States for every 7.38 million non terrorist foreigners who did so in those visa categories”. So, to answer the first question: no, there is not a high risk of an immigrant being a terrorist; in fact, the risk is exceedingly low. Yet, President Trump continues to assert that immigrants pose a high-level risk. In response to President Trump, Senator Schumer released a statement criticizing Mr. Trump’s reaction to the terror attack, accusing him of “politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy,”
Although the loss of lives is devastating, would a moratorium prevent further devastation? For this to be the case, as the Cato Institute points out, the benefits of such a ban would need to outweigh the cost. The report outlines for this to be possible, or rather for a break even cost to be possible “an immigration moratorium would have to prevent 2,333 deaths annually at an estimated $15 million per death. In reality, an average of 4.6 murders were committed per year by immigrant (non-tourist) terrorists during the 41-year period.”
Not only does it seem obvious that such a policy would cost the U.S., it is becoming increasingly clear that the ostracization of immigrants in the U.S. could be causing terror attacks. Holly Mellisa Knapton suggests in her study on this subject, that ostracizing groups, particularly Muslims, could result in radicalization. This is because ostracism threatens four crucial needs of individuals:
“…a need to belong, a need for self-esteem, a need for control and a need for meaningfulness… Extremist groups may provide an opportunity to fortify all four threatened needs, presenting victims of ostracism an opportunity to gain belonging and in turn self-esteem, but also the chance to regain control and meaningfulness through political violence.”
By thinking about what might be causing these terror attacks, one might conclude that President Trump’s reactions may only exacerbating the situation. While anger in these circumstances is understandable, governments have a responsibility to ensure their words and actions are not impulsive.
It is without question that the deaths of all those in terror attacks are achingly felt by their loved ones and their nation. To blame and punish the crimes of the few on the majority is an easy trap to fall into. In the fight against terrorism, the U.S. and other nations must realize that stopping immigration and ostracizing groups is not only incorrect but ultimately damaging.