Manhattan Institute

Target: New York

Another terror attack in America’s biggest city reminds us of the ongoing threat—and the problems with U.S. immigration policy.

Two attacks on Manhattan in the last six weeks by ISIS-inspired terrorists demonstrate that the jihadi threat is serious and real. Sayfullo Sapiov, the Uzbeki national who murdered eight people with a truck on Halloween, and Akayed Ullah, the Bangladeshi whose pipe bomb appears to have detonated prematurely in the subway system this morning, are adherents of a radical ideology that urges armed struggle against the West. They’re also recent immigrants to the United States, each arriving around 2010 from their respective countries.

According to New York’s political leadership, these terrorists attack America—and New York City, in particular—because they hate our policy of openness to the world. “We are a target by many who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference this morning. “We have the Statue of Liberty in our harbor and that makes us an international target.” Seconding this theme, Mayor de Blasio announced, “the choice of New York is always for a reason: we are a beacon to the world and we actually show that a society of many backgrounds and many faiths can work . . . and our enemies want to undermine that.”

If we’re to take this logic to its conclusion, Saipov and Ullah acted in violent opposition to American immigration policy. They hate the fact that the United States, alone among the world’s major countries, admits unskilled migrants in huge numbers, and allows recent non-citizen immigrants to sponsor their family members to come here, virtually without limit. According to New York’s governor and mayor, the visa status of Saipov and Ullah is irrelevant (and unmentionable). What’s important is to recognize that these jihadis hate multiculturalism and open borders.

In fact, ISIS and its caliphate have not issued edicts or opinions about U.S. immigration policy—or about our bicameral legislative structure, among many other facets of the American system. Their war on the West is an extension of the jihad on unbelievers, as well as a counterattack on America for invading Muslim lands. When politicians like Cuomo and de Blasio color every terror attack as inspired by the success of our multiculturalist society, they obscure the jihadis’ true motivations, while maintaining the fiction that our immigration policies are successful.

Sayfullo Saipov entered the U.S. through the Diversity Visa lottery, which hands out green cards more or less at random to lucky entrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Immigration advocates laud the Diversity lottery as an effective way to ensure that unskilled people without family connections in the United States can come here. We don’t know yet why Akayed Ullah was allowed to come here, but Bangladeshis are among the fastest-growing immigrant groups in New York City. The number of Bangladeshi immigrants in the city has jumped from 28,000 in 2000 to approximately 74,000 today. Nearly one-third of Bangladeshis in New York live in poverty, versus 20 percent of New Yorkers generally; their per-capita income is roughly half of the city-wide average. The majority of Bangladeshis report limited English proficiency, despite coming from a country that, prior to its independence, had been a longtime British colony. Few immigrants from Bangladesh are admitted on the basis of their job skills. Of 14,819 Bangladeshis admitted to the United States in 2010, for example, 4,935 were let in because they were “immediate relatives of U.S. citizens,” while 6,006 got in under the category of “family-sponsored preferences.” The Diversity Visa lottery accounted for another 2,800. That leaves about 800 for skills-based entry, with 171 listed as refugees or asylum-seekers.

Critics of President Trump’s travel ban on residents from a handful of Muslim-majority countries have pointed out that neither Uzbekistan nor Bangladesh are on the list—proof, they claim, that the travel ban should be scrapped. The same logic could be used, though, to argue for expanding the travel ban: Why admit any more people from Bangladesh or Uzbekistan unless they can offer a compelling reason for their presence here?

It’s time for the United States to take a serious look at the fundamentals of its immigration policy, beginning with a simple premise: the primary function of America’s immigration system should be not to benefit immigrants, but America.

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