By R. MARK FREY
During his first inaugural speech on March 4, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed that the greatest enemy facing these United States is fear.
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
In the aftermath of the tragic events taking place on September 11, 2001, our nation reeled and sought by all means necessary to secure the homeland. We declared a war on terror and entered Iraq in the belief that weapons of mass destruction were there, viewed and treated peoples of various ethnic backgrounds with mistrust and suspicion, sometimes to the detriment of their civil rights, and successfully foiled attempts by some to create mayhem. And, we’ve lived through the Terror Alert System comprised of Severe (Red), High (Orange), Elevated (Yellow), Low (Green), and Guarded (Blue) levels which, in and of itself, appeared at times to create even more significant fear and anxiety.
At the same time, we’ve struggled through several mass killings by lone gunmen in Aurora Colorado, Portland Oregon, Newtown Connecticut, Oak Creek Wisconsin, Oakland California, Tucson Arizona, Blacksburg Virginia, Seattle Washington, Fort Hood Texas, and Minneapolis Minnesota. But, according to Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections in a December 2012 Associated Press interview, mass killings, while horrendous, abhorrent, and unacceptable, have actually declined over the years. He points out that mass shootings actually rose between the 1960s and 1990s and then dropped in the 2000s, with the peak in 1929.
The cumulative effect of these varied events has served to create a climate of fear and suspicion among many of us. The recent deplorable and tragic events in Boston would seem to suggest that we should expect even more of the same. But, in fact, it appears that Boston and the rest of the country have said, “Enough already!” And, to everyone’s relief, the perpetrators were discovered soon after the bombing through a concerted effort involving the cooperation of different agencies, witnesses, and extensive reliance on images provided by security cameras, cell phones, and social media. Now, while some have cried out for vigilante justice, others, including government officials and the media, have called for calm and a concerted, systematic effort to find out what’s really going on with this case, who’s behind the bombing, and what factors are responsible for leading two young men to commit a crime of this horrible magnitude. Authorities have filed charges against the surviving brother as a criminal rather than a terrorist given that he is a U.S. citizen and apparently lacking any ties to any terrorist organization.
Within this milieu, Congress has commenced a vigorous and lively debate about our immigration laws with some members and others seeking to make hay of these events by playing the fear card in order to slow or impede efforts for sorely needed reform. And, to what avail?
The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 23, 2013 about that body’s recently introduced 844 page bipartisan immigration bill while systematically addressing issues concerning security and immigration enforcement and allaying fears about our country’s vulnerability. She assured members that, if anything, this legislation will strengthen our efforts to ensure that borders are secure while keeping the “bad guys” out.
And, she pointed out, the proposed changes will help the government determine who is in the country and thus increase the safety of the country:
“One of the real significant improvements made by this bill is to bring people out of the shadows…We know who they are. We know where they are. And by the way, from a police perspective, once these people know that every time they interact with law enforcement they won’t be subject to removal, it will help with the reporting of crimes, the willingness to be a witness and so forth.”
The time for immigration reform is now. The big question for Congress and this country is whether we are ready to put aside fear and begin the process, in the words of FDR, of converting retreat into advance.
(R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has been practicing immigration law exclusively for almost 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family immigration, naturalization, and removal defense).