Looks likes USCIS Director Lee Cissna didn’t do his homework for his press conference yesterday. But neither did the reporters who were hounding him.
Cissna was promoting the RAISE Act, which would move U.S. immigration policy in a more skills-based direction. In particular, it would end chain migration, i.e. X sponsors his sister, she later sponsors her mother, who in turn later sponsors her new husband, who then sponsors his sister, etc.
Cissna brought up the recent NYC bombing attack as evidence that current immigration policy needs improvement. His claim was, essentially, that using skills rather than family connections as the basis for choosing immigrants should bring us fewer people who are prone to become terrorists. He didn’t offer data on that, but no one — even those reporters badgering Cissna — would dispute the fact that almost all immigrant terrorists in the U.S. have come here in categories other than the skills-based.
But Cissna allowed the press to change the issue. They started bringing up the usual line that the crime rate among immigrants is lower than that of natives. Likely true, depending on definitions, but IRRELEVANT. Note again what I said above. An immigrant admitted on the basis of skills is less likely to become a terrorist than someone admitted through family connections or refugee status.
If Cissna had fully explained that to the press yesterday, they would have had to back off. But no, he allowed them to change to an irrelevant subject.
It’s really an issue of grade school math, rates and proportions. “What proportion of Group X has Trait Y?” This is fifth or sixth grade stuff. Cissna correctly began with the relevant proportion, yet allowed the reporters to switch to an irrelevant one. In other words, Cissna, who has a physics degree from MIT, was outwitted by a bunch of English majors who had trouble with algebra back in high school.
The other point is that one journalist dismissed the recent NYC attack as “an isolated incident.” Yes, the 9/11 and San Bernardino attacks were isolated incidents too. But I think all would agree that we must formulate policy, including immigration policy, to avoid such cases as best we can. As I have written before, we must take a critical look at what benefit we hope to get from immigration (not necessarily economic), and how much we are willing to “pay” for that benefit (not necessarily monetary); one such cost is an increased number of these horrific and tragic incidents, even if they are rare.
I hope Cissna does his homework before future press conferences. And NO, I do NOT support the RAISE Act myself; I just support clear, unbiased thinking.
By the way, this is a bit related to my old Bloomberg op-ed, “Software Engineers Will Work One Day for English Majors.” 🙂