Boston Terrorism and Immigration Reform

Economist and Research Fellow, Hoover Institution

I listened to news of the Boston lockdown this morning, a consequence of the successful intelligence and police work in identifying and killing at least one of the Marathon terrorists.  Early reports are that two of the suspects are recent immigrants to the U.S. From a Boston Globe summary report:

Authorities are searching for suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, a government official said this morning. The dead suspect is his brother, a source said. At 8:45 a.m., a SWAT team and armored car had been summoned and police were surrounding a home and a car near an intersection in Watertown, the community that officials said is the focus of their search for Tsarnaev.

As a former military intelligence officer, I couldn't be more proud of the quickness in finding the terrorists. To my brothers and sisters in the silent service, thank you. And my heart goes out to the police officers injured and killed today.

As our readers know, I now work as an economic, not intelligence, analyst. In fact, I first learned about the Marathon bombings while researching immigration reform, particularly the dysfunctional politics in the Senate and House that corrupt common sense ideas that most Americans support. That leaves the nation with a de facto amnesty that gives terrorists and drug gangs cover to enter America, hide, overstay, and more. Inaction on immigration reform means that our nation will be more vulnerable than it should be to the kind of terrorists that struck in Boston. Some of you may recall that I warned of exactly this danger in a 2006 report published by the Heritage Foundation:

Even though they pose no direct security threat, the presence of millions of undocumented migrants distorts the law, distracts resources, and effectively creates a cover for terrorists and criminals. In other words, the real problem presented by illegal immigration is security, not the supposed threat to the economy. Indeed, efforts to curtail the economic influx of migrants actually worsen the security dilemma by driving many migrant workers underground, thereby encouraging the culture of illegality. A non-citizen guest worker program is an essential component of securing the border

Despite good faith efforts of President Bush, Senator McCain, and Senator Kennedy in 2007, too many politicians preferred to keep the issue unresolved.  So for the last six years, thanks to the foot-draggers in Washington, our nation's security has been compromised. And it seems that slow-rolling attitude remains in play today (see Kim Strassel's insightful comment in the WSJ this morning):

Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer recently dodged a question about whether his boss would sign a bill with a trigger. White House officials have been equally evasive on whether the president supports a guest-worker program.

I am also frustrated with conservatives who claim, falsely, that immigrants hurt the U.S. economy. They can only make that case by ignoring the benefits side of the ledger, not to mention ignoring dynamic analysis. See this recent Daily Caller Q&A with Doug Holtz-Eakin or my own Heritage study from 2006. Do you really think deporting 10 million people from our housing markets is going to help real estate vales? Immigrants that are high-skill AND low-skill add more to the economy than they take — good for consumers, good for tax revenue, and neutral for wages. But any reading of the economic growth literature confirms that greater scale and specialization enhances GDP and personal income growth in the long run.

But I am frustrated with Democrats, particularly the AFL-CIO types, that quietly try to strangle reform while pretending to love immigrants. Why won't the president support a humble guest worker program, lightly regulated, so long as guest workers are sponsored by U.S. employers? The sad fact is that too many Democrats want to avoid any signing ceremonies on immigration, because inaction can be blamed on the other side.

Holding out on immigration reform is a trifecta of cynical politics, anti-growth economics, and weakened national security.