New York should get used to terrorism if Congress refuses to fix the borders

New York should get used to terrorism if Congress refuses to fix the borders

As a jihadist, Akayed Ullah (thankfully) turned out to be the most incompetent terrorist since the Underwear Bomber. But what he inadvertently succeeded at was turning the spotlight, yet again, on America’s failed immigration policies and Congress’s misplaced priorities for immigration reform. 

Ullah turned up at New York City’s Port Authority terminal on Monday courtesy of two utterly inane components that account for some two-thirds of our legal immigration flow: family chain migration and the visa lottery. Ullah, according to Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton, was a product of both. “[DHS] can confirm that the suspect benefited from extended family chain migration. The chain was initiated by the suspect’s relative who became a U.S. Citizen after entering the country via a visa lottery program,” Houlton Tweeted Monday afternoon.

The Port Authority bombing occurred just seven weeks and a few miles from another terrorist attack, which unfortunately turned out to be far more lethal, perhaps because the jihadist opted for a less sophisticated weapon of mass murder. Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbekistani national, was the visa lottery winner. But before he killed eight people and injured dozens of others on Halloween, he managed to sponsor 23 relatives to this country.


In the wake of two terrorist attacks directly attributable to our nation’s incoherent immigration system and our demonstrable inability to adequately vet even legal immigrants from failed or failing states, Congress seems determined to justify its 13 percent public approval rating. Congressional Democrats and a smattering of Republicans are threatening to trigger a government shutdown, not over the urgent need to fix a broken and dangerous legal immigration policy, but over demands to grant unconditional amnesty to illegal aliens.


The first priority must be to end policies that, even if they were not opening the door to terrorists, are costly and result in the large-scale admission of people who have little to contribute to this country. Both Ullah’s and Saipov’s only marketable skills (not including crude pipe bomb-making) was their ability to operate a motor vehicle. And yet, thanks to an immigration system that admits people primarily based on having extended family members in the United States, or random chance, Ullah and Saipov are here, while countless other people who have far more contribute to the common good are shut out.

Addressing the situation of some 700,000 DACA beneficiaries (half of whom have less than a high school diploma) who are here because their parents broke our laws is an option — a discretionary act of kindness on the part of the American people. Fixing legal immigration policies that serve no identifiable national interests and endanger national security is Congress’s responsibility (as is funding the operations of the federal government).

After finalizing a clean spending package before the clock strikes midnight a week from Friday, and spending a little time with family and, perhaps, some of the people they were elected to represent in Washington, members of Congress should turn their attention to overhauling an immigration policy that becomes more indefensible by the day.

High on their to-do list should be passage of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, S. 1720, which would scrap both chain migration and the visa lottery system and replace them with a more rational and fairer system that selects new immigrants based on an objective assessment of their likelihood to succeed here. The RAISE Act would also cut overall admissions to a level that would enable DHS and consular officials around the world to do a better job scrutinizing applicants, particularly from countries where the risks associated with terrorism is greatest.

The RAISE Act has been endorsed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the guy who sets the agenda in the Senate. It has also been endorsed by President Trump, whose signature will ultimately be necessary to make it law. And, in a perverse way, the urgency of its enactment has been underscored by Akayed Ullah and Sayfullo Saipov who embody all that is wrong with our current immigration system.

If the Republican leadership wants to throw in a benefit for current DACA beneficiaries to make it more palatable for their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, that is their choice. Waiting for the next act of terror perpetrated by products of our failed immigration system before finally doing what is necessary to fix it should not be a choice. After the events of the past several weeks, it is an abdication of their core responsibilities. 

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration.