As my colleague Jessica Vaughan has noted, police report that Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi national and lawful permanent resident who lives in Brooklyn, this morning "intentionally detonated" an "improvised low-tech explosive device attached to his body" on a below-ground walkway "near 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue" in Manhattan.
According to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman, Tyler Houlton,
.@DHSgov can confirm that the suspect was admitted to the United States after presenting a passport displaying an F43 family immigrant visa in 2011. The suspect is a Lawful Permanent Resident from Bangladesh who benefited from extended family chain migration.
— Tyler Q. Houlton (@SpoxDHS) December 11, 2017
An "F43 family immigrant" is immigration shorthand for the child of a family fourth preference visa holder, who is a "[b]rother or sister of" a U.S. citizen.
Press reports indicate that Ullah had a New York City taxi driver's license "from March 2012 through March 2015," when that license lapsed. It is not entirely clear how Ullah has supported himself in the almost three years since that time. According to a law enforcement source cited by CNN, "[r]ecent Israeli actions in Gaza compelled Ullah to carry out the attack," although the exact nature of the offending actions are not clear. NBC reported, however, that a "senior law enforcement official" had indicated that "Ullah said he attempted the attack in the name of ISIS, and told investigators that he was angry over Muslims being killed around the world." That official told NBC that Ullah "watched ISIS propaganda online and read other extremist writings like propaganda magazine 'Inspire' and learned how to make the explosive online."
This is only the most recent terror attack carried out by an alien in New York City in recent weeks. Federal officials have recently charged Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an Uzbekistan national "with killing eight people and injuring a dozen others by driving a pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center on Halloween." ISIS propaganda also reportedly played a role in that incident. According to CNN, Saipov "told investigators he was inspired by ISIS videos to use a truck in the attack 'to inflict maximum damage against civilians'". Saipov reportedly entered the United States through the visa lottery program.
New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio was quoted after the attack as stating:
The choice of New York is for a reason. We are a beacon to the world and we actually show that a society of many faiths and many backgrounds can work. ... The terrorists want to undermine that. So they yearn to attack New York City.
With all due respect to Mayor DiBlasio, there is likely more to it than that. Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, and even Dallas are "societ[ies] of many faiths and many backgrounds", of individuals who largely coexist and work peacefully. More likely, New York City is the target of choice of many terrorists because it represents the United States, and the individuals who are seeking to carry out these attacks are targeting what they view as the "heart of America".
These attacks demonstrate an illogical dysfunction at the heart of our immigration system. No connection whatsoever to the United States is necessary for a foreign national to apply for a visa through the visa lottery, and in fact that visa category exists primarily to benefit nationals of countries with low levels of immigration to America. And, respectfully, the nephew of a United States citizen (like Ullah) has only the most tangential of ties to this country before he arrives; even then that tie is only to the sponsoring aunt or uncle. No investment in the United States, its systems of beliefs, or its institutions is necessary. Not even support for its economic success is a prerequisite for admission. The only tie and admission requirement is one of blood.
In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote: "Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." At this point, we know little about the family of Akayed Ullah, whether it was happy or unhappy (and if so in what way), or even whether the sponsoring aunt or uncle was disposed to the ultimate success of the United States. For immigration purposes, these facts are unimportant; the only factor that is important is the willingness of the sponsor to file the petition on behalf of the beneficiary, with the beneficiary's parent.
In a quarter century of immigration practice, I have concluded that a significant portion of the world's population, if given the chance, would immigrate to the United States. This nation has the ability to be selective in granting the benefits of immigrant status to those foreign nationals who will do the most to improve the lives of the American people (both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents) and to benefit our economy. While it has that ability, however, the immigration laws of the United States are not written in such a way as to achieve those goals.
Chain migration, of the sort that brought Ullah and his family to this country, is first and foremost intended to benefit the sponsoring citizen, and the family of that citizen, the idea being that family reunification is an appropriate goal in and of itself. The attempted attack on an underground walkway on a morning in Manhattan calls into question whether that particular goal is in the best interests of the United States.
This is why Congress should give serious consideration to the RAISE Act, S. 354. That bill would break chain migration, and refocus our immigration system on those aliens who can do the most to contribute to American society. The most important choice that a free people can make is to decide whom it will allow to share in its blessings and future success. The American people have a chance to choose wisely, and should take that chance.