In the wake of the violent attack in New York where a 29-year-old man from Uzbekistan drove his truck into innocent people on a bike lane, there’s been increased discussion about immigration policies. The Trump administration is concerned about those entering the United States from politically troubled, majority-Muslim countries. And while it’s true that American citizens do need to be protected from threats, both domestic and foreign, there’s no reason to believe that cracking down on immigration policy alone will stop terrorist attacks.
Let’s look at the NYC incident, in which the perpetrator, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, was reportedly “inspired” by ISIS. President Trump has made tweets that attribute the attack to ISIS, but this man was not a member of the extremist group; he was encouraged by their brutal rhetoric. ISIS, to date, has not claimed any responsibility. It’s easy to blame other countries for disrupting the peace, but doesn’t it seem like there is a glaring problem in America?
Deterring deadly crimes is not simply about controlling who is entering the country. It’s not even mostly about that. It’s about who is already here — and we’re not talking about people who came here from other countries — how they’re being taught, how their mental health is being cared for, and the widespread availability of weapons designed to kill people.
According to a New York Times report on a study of Muslim-American violent extremism from sociology professor Charles Kurzman, “123 people have been killed in the United States by Muslim terrorists since the 2001 attacks — out of a total of more than 230,000 killings, by gang members, drug dealers, angry spouses, white supremacists, psychopaths, drunks and people of every description.”
The numbers, laid out plainly, put things in perspective. Our country has a violence problem, but focusing efforts to combat it at immigrants will, from every logical standpoint, do very little to effectively address domestic terrorism.
The horrific October 1st mass shooting in Las Vegas is an example of terrorism in America coming from a white American who had no prior criminal history. In fact, a recent Vox article made an interesting point:
While it’s admittedly painful and antithetical to what we want to believe about America, we must recognize that U.S. citizens can exhibit terrorist ideology or act on their desire to target their home country. We must reckon with domestic terror and not only foreign threats when discussing what can be done to keep the country safe.
So how can these dire issues be intelligently addressed?
Unfortunately, there’s not one single answer. But it ultimately comes down to stopping the spread of xenophobic propaganda and improving public education and mental health treatment in order to recognize and address troubled behavior before it turns violent. And then there’s the issue of guns, the importance of which cannot be overstated. (Why is it that when an immigrant commits a crime, Trump wants to overhaul immigration policy, but when a white American kills many more people with guns, the president is silent on the issue of gun control?)
If we’re going to talk about policy-level measures to ensure public safety, addressing the issue of gun control is key.
Having a reasonable and thoughtful immigration policy is certainly important. However, according to the evidence, it doesn’t seem to be the most effective way to address terrorist attacks in America.
We can only hope that lawmakers act responsibly and look to what other countries have done to combat mass violence, like Australia, Canada, and Japan. In the meantime, if you feel strongly about these issues, don’t hesitate to voice your concerns to local and congressional representatives. Speaking up is always worth it.