A 21st Century Immigration Policy (Guest Voice)
by Anthony Stahelski
Perhaps the most controversial of President Trump’s executive orders was the ban against travelers from six Muslim countries. This ban reflected Trump’s anti-Muslim immigrant campaign rhetoric. The massive outcry and backlash against Trump’s order and rhetoric make a fundamentally important point: The potential antisocial acts of a few cannot be attributed to an entire group. The vast majority of any group want what most Americans want: peace, safety and security, a decent standard of living, and opportunities for their children.
However, lost in the backlash outcry is the ominous reality of 21st Century terrorism. Like other forms of technology, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) have been miniaturized, without loss of destructive power. It no longer takes missiles, planes or ships to deliver WMDs to targets. A single individual with a suitcase bomb can destroy an entire city. Added to this sobering fact is the continuing existence of many extremist groups that would love to inflict another 9/11 on the United States, with even worse consequences. These groups could use the camouflage of immigration to infiltrate a WMD-armed terrorist into the United States, analogous to the infiltration of the 9/11 hijackers. Consequently the agencies responsible for the safety and security of our nation have a ‘needle in the haystack’ problem. The vast majority of immigrants are innocent, but a few are not. How do we find and disarm those few without violating the rights of the many?
What follows is a data-derived potential solution to this problem, based on terrorism research. The vast majority of those who carry out terrorist acts are young, unmarried males. Very few terrorist perpetrators are females, and very few are married men with children. President Trump could have used this data to create a more nuanced travel ban and immigrant policy: Only allow married couples with children to travel to and to immigrate into the country. Married men and women with children are much less likely to be seduced by extremist rhetoric because they are focused on the practical realities of providing for their families.
As an example of an overly loose immigration policy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, attempting to demonstrate her global noblesse oblige, recently allowed over a million Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees into Germany with minimal vetting. This group included large numbers of young unattached males. Thanks to Merkel’s blazing stupidity, approximately 1200 German women were raped on New Year’s Eve, 2016, primarily by young male immigrants. Granted this is not the same as killing large numbers of people, but rape is both its own atrocity and a warning of worse to come.
Of course this use of profiling in the vetting process is not a foolproof method of preventing terrorist attacks. Clearly it would not stop attacks by individuals who are already citizens or residents of the United States, as demonstrated by the Boston Marathon bombing.
Nonetheless it is a data-based compromise between under and over-vetting. Unfortunately President Trump is not strategic enough to create or explain such a compromise policy. So instead he proposes a ‘one size fits all’ policy that of course arouses intense opposition, which leads to gridlock and a continuing impasse on the immigration issue. The President needs to explain the immigration issue in the context of the needle in the haystack problem, and, more generally, as a democratic tug-of-war between freedom and security, with unregulated immigration at the freedom end and no immigration at the security end. The immigration issue cannot be solved in an either/or, categorical fashion at either extreme end of the continuum.
Stopping legal immigration completely or allowing completely un-vetted immigration are equally bad ideas. A solution has to be found somewhere in between these extreme positions. The country is built on immigration and we still need immigrants, but in these dangerous times we must find the needles in the haystack before we use the hay.
Anthony Stahelski, is a a professor of psychology at Central Washington University in Ellensburg Washington.