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No, Getting U.S. Citizenship Isn't a Terror Tactic

"Is citizenship now a tactic in the war on terror?" asks conservative columnist Dana Loesch. Should you be wondering, she goes on to point out that "It's a legitimate question." It is also a stupid question.

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"Is citizenship now a tactic in the war on terror?" asks conservative columnist Dana Loesch. Should that cause you to scratch you head, she goes on to point out that "It's a legitimate question." Which it is, if you are judging it only according to the rules of English grammar and syntax. Read literally, it seems to be a question no one is asking, unless someone is proposing granting U.S. citizenship as a way to fight terrorism. But judging by the rest of her post, and in the context of the policy responses to terrorism and its tactics, it is merely a stupid question.

Here are some related questions Loesch asks:

Is it beyond the realm of possibility to believe that individuals intent on terror would also hide behind newly acquired civil liberties to avoid detection and surveillance or to shut down an investigation? Why aren’t these questions being asked? And what are we doing to remedy this without impeding law-abiding immigrants who simply want to be Americans?

To the first question: Yeah, basically, which we'll get to. To the second: They are, legitimately! And to the third: There is nothing to remedy because this makes no sense.

Becoming a citizen of the United States is not easy. If it were easy, there would be little to no illegal immigration. Last week, we walked through what it took for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to gain his citizenship last year, ten years after he got to America. He had to get a tourist visa through his family. They sought asylum. After a year, he could become a permanent resident. After another five years, he could apply for naturalization. At each step, robust background checks — the sort of background checks that tripped up Tamerlan Tsarnaev, preventing him from getting his citizenship.

That's all via the relatively expedient process of asylum-seeking. It's trickier if the person seeking to become a citizen isn't a refugee, requiring sponsorship by a family member or business. Loesch touches on that, but doesn't actually seem to understand it.

The 9/11 terror attacks began as an immigration problem. I’ve said this for years. Terrorists in our country on expired visas were stopped by police for traffic reasons weeks before the attack. The Boston bombings, by looking at the suspects, was also an immigration problem. I know upstanding individuals with no criminal record or associations who have waited 12 years, paid five figures, and hired attorneys to get the same citizenship status awarded in a shorter time to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – citizenship our government was in the process of considering for Tamerlane [sic] Tsarnaev, despite his FBI interrogation and tip from Russian government.

The government was not "in the process of considering" citizenship for Tamerlan. It had rejected his application because of that FBI interrogation. They would also probably have stopped considering his application anyway, because he is dead.

None of this makes much sense and is pretty transparently just an effort to impugn the Senate's existing immigration reform proposal, as others did today. But what's completely goofy about it is how ridiculous the idea is.

The Tsarnaevs, guilty or not, weren't interested in "hiding behind their civil liberties." Tamerlan died during Thursday night's spectacular gunfight; it appears that his brother may have tried to kill himself. Nor do foreign terrorists come to America to be tried in a court of law. They come to America to kill Americans — and in nearly every recent example, they've been willing to die in order to accomplish that goal. Perhaps Loesch fears that the terrorists will use their status as naturalized citizens to shield themselves from FBI investigation. It's not entirely clear how suspicious activity from a citizen would be treated much differently than suspicious activity from a non-citizen. Take the Tsarnaev brothers. Did Dzhokhar have some advantage his non-citizen brother didn't?

The main reason Loesch's question is goofy is that terrorists are very unlikely to sit around for nearly a decade — having no contact with anyone else remotely linked to terrorism, never traveling to any area likely to arouse suspicion, never breaking the law, studying American history, learning English, and being quizzed repeatedly by immigration officials — all so they have a legal case against the FBI and AT&T if their phone calls are monitored. No one is going to go through all of that when one could just as easily put nails and a pipe bomb inside a pressure cooker and take it to a marathon finish line.

Is Dana Loesch serious? This is a legitimate question.

Photo via AP: A group of people who are not terrorists take their oath of citizenship.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.