Immigration is an extremely controversial political topic today. A focal point of this debate centers on the balance between national security and the value brought to the U.S. by immigrants. On one side of the debate, the threats the U.S. national security are so great and likely that all immigration should include extreme vetting, strict caps, major limitations, and cultural and religious tests. On the other side of the debate, the value that immigrants bring to the U.S. are so high that the miniscule national security risks are easily outweighed. It should be noted from the outset, here, that framing the debate on this focal point shows a nationalistic perspective. That is, the interests of the U.S. and its constituents are all that really matter here.
This perspective ignores the humanitarian and moral aspects of this issue, such as the humanitarian and moral obligations to allow in refugees from countries like Syria. But by focusing on this issue from a nationalistic perspective, there is a common base of values that may appeal to all or most Americans. This project features the argument that immigrants to the U.S. bring in far more value than the relatively low risk to our national security. Immigration, then, should opened up in the U.S., rather than extremely limited.

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Immigration may be viewed as a gateway for allowing terrorists to flood into the country, killing Americans, destroying infrastructure, and disrupting our government. After all, one may argue, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 were caused by immigrants. However, there is clear evidence that the national security threats posed by immigrants are no greater than those posed by domestic terrorists. In one study, researchers reviewed cases of terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11 (Golash-Boza 29). The results of this study revealed that nearly twice as many people have been killed by U.S.-born citizens than immigrants (Golash-Boza 31). Such results indicate that the domestic threats to national security are far greater than the international threats allegedly posed by immigrants.

Moreover, the current vetting procedures for immigrants in the U.S. have done an outstanding job keeping out potential threats. In this context, potential threats are individuals with terrorist ties, including distant terrorist ties, or histories of aggression towards the West. Likewise, individuals with criminal backgrounds, such as a history of violence, are also viewed as potential threats. The current vetting procedures in the U.S. have kept out most of the threats to national security and include thorough backgrounds checks, investigations into potential contacts, and even post-immigration surveillance. By taking these procedures further to include major limitations on immigrants, especially those from the Middle East, the federal government would not be decreasing the risk to national security in the U.S. much at all.

Just as there are those who argue that limiting immigration and turning to extreme vetting procedures will minimize the risks to national security, there are also those who recognize that the resulting discrimination against Muslims and Arabs may actually fuel anti-U.S. and anti-West movements in the Middle East (Castles, De Haas, and Miller 39). Terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS depend heavily on recruitment. Just after World War I when the Ottoman Empire was split up, there were relatively few terrorist groups. Among those that are thought to have existed, they were manly vying for political power. As the West, including the U.S., began to assert itself in the Middle East through occupation and buying political influence, political groups began turning into terrorist groups. The recruitment in such groups has long been fueled by Western intervention and meddling in the Middle East, but is now also being fueled by the perception that the West is anti-Muslim and anti-Arab (Castles, De Haas, and Miller 80). Thus, immigration reform that puts strong limitations on immigration from the Middle East is viewed as highly discriminatory, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab. Such reform may actually fuel recruitment of terrorist groups in the Middle East and focus the aim of such terrorist groups not on rival political factors, but on the U.S. and the rest of the West. It is likely, then, that discriminatorily limiting immigration to the Middle East would actually increase national security threats for the U.S.

Another important consideration here is the overall weight being granted to national security, which is often defined loosely as protections to the nation itself or from activities that could cause crisis in our nation (Omi and Winant 145). National security, as such, is quite important. Homicide rate, too, is important in the U.S. Just as national security is strongly associated with terrorism, it does not include non-terrorist homicides in most cases. Yet, terrorist activities account for less than 1% of all homicides in the U.S.; meanwhile, the homicide rate in the U.S. is far higher than almost all other developed countries (Omi and Winant 97). The importance of this is that the federal government and policy-makers often give too much weight to national security and not enough weight to decreasing the actual number of killings in the U.S. Thus, the claims that national security threats from immigrants are justifications for major limitations on immigration are not well-supported.

The second side of this debate concerns that actual value of immigrants to the U.S. Such value may be measured in a number of ways, but is most often measured economically. As it turns out, immigrants are more likely to start their own businesses in the U.S. than non-immigrants (Greenwood 44). Likewise, immigrants tend make higher incomes than non-immigrants after they have been in the country for at least five years (Greenwood 49). One may question how immigrants are able to do so well in the U.S. A driving force behind immigrant success is that immigrants tend to have different ideas and sociocultural values than Americans. This means that immigrants have unique value to offer American residents, such as in the form of new types of cuisine, new technologies, or new services that are uncommon in the U.S. Sociocultural diversity, then, is a driving reason why immigrants are so success. With such diversity comes value in itself and not just economic value. Immigrants bring new perspective, interesting cultural concepts, new interpretations of religion, new sports, new games, and so on to the U.S. Thus, while the economic value added to the U.S. by immigrants is clear, there are also other types of value being added that are often not captured in the research.

Featured in this paper is an argument against strongly limiting immigration in order to protect national security interests. The line of reasoning behind this argument is that such immigrants do not actually pose that much of a threat to the U.S. especially when compared to domestic threats, severely limiting immigration may actually cause greater threats to the U.S. national security, and that immigrants bring so much value to the U.S. that limiting them for national security reasons, in this case, is a mistake. It is not the conclusion of this paper that the current U.S. immigration policies should not be reformed in some meaningful way. Rather, it is the conclusion of this paper that immigration reform that places extreme limitations and vetting procedures on immigrants, especially those from the Middle East, will not accomplish the aims of such reform and will diminish the high value brought to the U.S. by immigrants.

  • Castles, Stephen, Hein De Haas, and Mark J. Miller. The age of migration: International population movements in the modern world. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  • Golash-Boza, Tanya Maria. Immigration nation: Raids, detentions, and deportations in post-9/11 America. Routledge, 2015.
  • Greenwood, Michael J. Migration and economic growth in the United States: national, regional, and metropolitan perspectives. Academic Press, 2014.
  • Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial formation in the United States. Routledge, 2014.