Orlando shooting was in the 51st year of our immigration experiment

It has been a month since the Orlando nightclub attack, which I hope is enough time that we can think about something other than how tragic it was (though of course the tragedy remains just as bad, if not as immediate, and my sympathies are with those who were touched directly).

Until 1965 it would have been impossible for someone like Seddique Mir Mateen to have emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States. Thus it would have been impossible for his son, Omar Mateen, to have been born and educated here at taxpayer expense. With the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, considerations of cultural compatibility were eliminated.

Syed Farook, the former San Bernardino County Department of Public Health food inspector, is another person who was here in the U.S. as a result of this 1965 law. His parents emigrated from Pakistan. (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family provide another example, though the Tsarnaev brothers were not born in the U.S., only educated here in the Cambridge Public Schools.)

Plainly neither Mr. Farook nor Mr. Mateen developed any real fondness for the nation that adopted their parents. Both were likely guilty of what mainstream Americans would consider ThoughtCrime on a range of social subjects. This eventually led to a violent end for both men. Yet it seems possible that both could have fit in reasonably well back in their parents’ homelands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their beliefs would likely not have been out of step with neighbors’ beliefs in those countries. We didn’t do ourselves any favors by admitting their parents, but the full scale of the waste is apparent only when we reflect that we didn’t do Mr. Farook or Mr. Mateen any favors either.

I’m wondering if we are so biased in favor of our own culture that we can’t understand that there are people on the planet for whom prevailing U.S. culture would not be their first choice. If so, at least as long as we maintain our culture-blind immigration policy (plus a few generations beyond), we are doomed to be repeatedly shocked by events similar to those in Orlando and San Bernardino.

25 thoughts on “Orlando shooting was in the 51st year of our immigration experiment

  1. You’ve only got half the story — it is a combination of clueless people biased in favor of our own culture and clever people biased against our own culture that led to this, you only mentioned the first group.

  2. Have you spoken to other immigrants who were not culturally compatible? (The original North American immigrants were Quakers, obviously not very culturally compatible with the Native Americans.)

    Your own family immigrated at a time when the vast majority of the country was fairly hostile to the Jewish faith. Was this nation their first choice? (Are there terrorists a couple generations back in your family? How did you manage to steer away from it?)

    If you look at the immigrant’s family as a larger group, how many are unsuccessful in their immersion into the American cultural tangle? (I am not sure that the Tsarnev brothers should be considered separate individuals, since one led the other, that is, I think without the older brother I am not sure that the younger brother would have been disruptive.)

    I just read a book, “Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing,” which dealt with some inter-generational issues of immigration and it reminded me that as close to their original culture as the first generation remains, there is often a HUGE jump toward the norm for the second generation. Do you find this to be true even in your own immediate nuclear family?

  3. @ Billg: yes, and?

    @ Philg: though your conclusion has been presented in conditional form (If so,) “at least as long as we maintain our culture-blind immigration policy… we are doomed to be repeatedly shocked by events similar to [mass shootings],” it seems that you believe that an immigrant’s formal belonging to some specific “haunted” ethnicity or culture might/ could/ ought to constitute the sole grounds for his/her exclusion from the US on account of perceived heightened risk factor(?) of future deadly excesses by some deranged individuals of the same ethnic/etc setup.

    This could be a viable discussion spring board PROVIDED that ALL such mass shootings and other “DIY/ homegrown” terror acts of the last 51 years be evaluated for their perpetrators’ ethnic profile, and for length of their lineage on the U.S. soil. Something tells me, however, that the findings of such a study would turn out to be anywhere between inconclusive and unpalatable for wider consumption, because the cultural/ ethnic/ social class subgroups found to statistically have “produced” the highest/ most frequent KILL numbers are these commonly thought to be the most “peaceful” ones.

    Of course, I could be wrong, but then what says that that your above stated assumption of sole ethnic causality for mass violence is the true factor?

  4. The premise is ridiculous. The idea that the government can pick and choose which cultures will mesh and which won’t is likely to be equally effective to government picking which industry to support. They will do a piss poor job.

    Excluding cultures because they are not deemed compatible will mean we miss out on considerable entrepreneurial spirit (you conveniently left out the benefits of immigration), innovation, and of course tax revenue. Yes, there is a minimal risk of terrorist activity from the policy, but it has a.) historically killed or injured an insignificant portion of the population, and b.) I see no evidence that American deaths are disproportionately caused by the groups I assume you do not like.

  5. Moslems produce the most terrorists. Every study shows that.

    Maybe Jews have not fit in perfectly, but at least they have learned to co-exist with a Christian society.

  6. Yes, being a Muslim is way more associated with being a terrorist than any other classification.

    Too many people seem to have internalized what Sailer calls the “Zeroth Amendment” — that every human being in the entire world ought to have the same rights to participate in America as Americans do, because “we” have universal moral obligations and the well-being of a foreigner ought to count just as much as the well-being of an American. That American politicians are elected by Americans to promote the interests of Americans is seen by these people as unfortunate, primitive, and backward.

  7. @ianf: The data says you can either have an increasing standard of living or an increasing immigrant population, but not both.

  8. (Jewish New York) Congressman Emanuel Celler gave his maiden speech in Congress in 1923 speaking out against the Immigration Act of 1924, which largely cut off Jewish immigration and resulted in many more deaths in the Holocaust. Walker, the President of MIT,had argued in The Atlantic in 1896 that the kind of immigrants that America was then taking (Jews, Italians, etc.) were incompatible with American democratic values and would never amount to anything and his arguments prevailed in the ’20s. Celler spent the next 40 years in Congress fighting for the repeal of the ’24 Act and he finally succeeded in the ’65 Act, which bore his name. Unfortunately, by then, it was far too late to save the Jews of Europe.

    It was a natural mistake for the Jews to think that just as Walker had been wrong about them, the newer immigrant groups would also turn out to be great Americans. Israel did the same thing with the “Jews” of Ethiopia (who were not really Jewish to begin with) – if it was not possible to go back in time and save the Jews of Europe, you could symbolically save them by saving these other people. In one respect, they were NOT wrong – Asians are basically filling the ecological niche of the Jews in America and are proceeding very nicely along the upwardly mobile path laid out by the Jews – the first generation pursues small business, the next pursues higher education, the professions, etc. Unfortunately, this formula doesn’t work that well for other groups whose mean IQ does not resemble that of Jews and Asians. If the mean IQ of your ethnic group is 85, a career as a prosthodontist or a gastroenterologist is probably not in the cards for you even with an AA boost.

  9. “As close to their original culture as the first generation remains, there is often a HUGE jump toward the norm for the second generation. Do you find this to be true even in your own immediate nuclear family?”

    There are a couple of problems with this. Latinos (and Muslims in Europe) tend not to be upwardly mobile. 2nd and 3rd generation Mexican Americans are often LESS functional in American society than their hardworking parents. They grow up with the bad example of American ghetto culture as their role models and end up being unsuited for BOTH manual labor and more educated pursuits, which leaves selling drugs and petty crime as an option.

    Also, while there used to be a strong push toward assimilation for all immigrants, the trend now is for people to keep identifying with their original culture. Mateen did NOT think of himself as an American but as an Afghan. Joker, strangely, by the time of his trial, had reverted to a foreign accent.

    You ask about immediate family. One of the sons of a cousin of mine, a conventional assimilated (and wealthy) American Jew, was recruited by the Lubavitchers and now bears a big long beard and a black hat. There are now ANTI- assimilationist forces at play in America in opposition to traditional assimilationist forces. I recall hearing an interview with Philip Roth in which he mentioned that even though he had attended an almost 100% Jewish high school in Newark in the late ’40s, not a single boy wore a kipah (Jewish head covering). Keeping your head covered was something that your grandfather did. That kind of thinking has changed drastically in America and you see people sporting all sorts of outrageous religious regalia up to and including full burkas. After its loss in Vietnam, etc. America lost civilizational confidence and as bin Laden said, people instinctively prefer what they perceive to be the strong horse.

  10. One can solve this by have a points based immigration system coupled with a system where you subtract points from applicants who are coming from nations that sponsor terrorism (read: Muslim majority countries). Ideally, this would block most Muslims but let some of the more talented ones in. For example, Iranian graduate students in engineering have done really well (see: http://www.newsweek.com/surprising-success-irans-universities-87853) and many of them go in to become leading professors and academics. It would be a shame to block them out. Likewise, Turkish graduate students are also talented and go on to become leading engineers and technologists. Iranians and Turks also assimilate well in the US so that is not a problem.

  11. What’s surprising is that Newsweek would call it “surprising”. Persia has been an important regional power since ancient times – it is not a backwater. (As in Turkey), there has been a cultural shift due to population pressure coming from the rural, conservative countryside that has a higher birthrate, but their urbanized elites were always (almost) competitive with their Western counterparts. In both countries, the countryside won the race and put their countries on a less Western track, but if they had managed the demographic transition a little better (just a slightly lower rural birth rate) the Westernizers would have won and these places would have become fully modern. But in losing, their large Westernized urban contingents didn’t disappear – they are still around for the most part (although the ones in Iran are more likely to leave for the West).

  12. But, to go back to Dr. Greenspun’s question, how should we screen potential immigrants to the US. President Trump has proposed that all folks be banned from countries that sponsor terrorism or have a significant presence of terrorists (see: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/us/politics/donald-trump-immigration.html). This list includes Iran and if we go through with a blanket bam, we would lose out on some of this talent. Is this tradeoff worth it? On one hand, we would be better positioned to reduce the population of Muslim terrorists in the US but we will be losing out on substantial talent. Is there a better filter than what President Trump as proposed?

  13. For one thing, you could distinguish between Shia and Sunni. Almost all Western terror is done by Sunnis (Iran does its own terror but it is done on a state sponsored basis, not by immigrants-gone-wild ). So prohibiting Sunni immigration would be a good start.

    If you listen to Trump’s actual words, they were to the effect that there should be a temporary moratorium on Muslim immigration until we figure out an effective filter. This seems like a better idea than making platitudinous speeches about how Islam is a religion of peace while American suffer the consequences and targeting elderly white grandmas and young Muslim males equally on a non-discriminatory basis. Since the Zeroth Amendment doesn’t really exist, we are really under no obligation to take any immigrant from anywhere, even if our grounds are explicitly raaaacist in a way that would not be permissible if we were dealing with US citizens. So if our choice is between missing out on brilliant Islamic horologists such as clockboy and not getting mowed down on club night, maybe we may have to learn to miss out and only choose our future horologists from the 2 billion Chinese and Indian candidates.

  14. We need an eight year immigration moratorium. The immigration system is so dysfunctional with so many special interests it has to be burned down to the ground before we can even start to figure out what makes sense. No imported Americans or green cards for eight years.

  15. I would favor keeping the moratorium permanently. The long term sustainable population of the United States is probably much less than 300 million. We are running down the topsoil and aquifers at an alarming rate. Phosphate and nitrate supplies are also not infinite and it’s disturbingly possible that this century we might find out what it means to run out of cheap fertilizer.

  16. I second bobbybobbob indeed this country needs an immigration moratorium to properly “digest” the newcomers, if for no reason other than reducing the number of bad drivers on the California streets. And all new immigrants should spend a mandatory 1 year indoctrination period with a qualified US family in the mid-west corn belt. Then we open immigration to PhDs only.

  17. Since men commit disproportionately more crime, we should only accept female immigrants, especially from countries with less progressive gender dynamics.

  18. After the moratorium we can tinker with an “only hot and smart chicks” policy. That’s the true national strategic shortage. We certainly don’t need more ugly male engineers of questionable credentials.

    Only hot, smart chicks under 35. And no bringing over the family once you’re in. We’re done with that.

  19. A key point that has been overlooked here is that in nearly all cases, those who seek to come to the US from countries involved in conflict are fleeing from oppression (religious, political, cultural). They are not the oppressors.

    Full disclosure: I work for a refugee protection agency that resettles people here. The US refugee resettlement program is not perfect, but it works. The people who enter as refugees (after attaining refugee legal status, through vetting by numerous federal agencies, a min. 18-24 month wait after acceptance into the program, medical exams and cultural orientation classes) are highly motivated to succeed. In many cases they have lost everything they had, including close family members, and faced unimaginable suffering and trauma.

    The US has resettled close to 800,000 refugees since 9/11, many from muslim countries. The record is overwhelming positive, none have committed acts of terror. These people seek and find employment (often taking jobs Americans don’t want), send their kids to school and become part of our country.

    I doubt that many, if any, of you have met any recently resettled refugees in person; most American have not. I have – from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Burundi, Gambia and elsewhere and after hearing their stories and deep expressions of gratitude toward the US for providing a safe place to restart their lives, feel strongly about our obligation to try to help.

    That’s speaking about refugees. Regarding economic migrants, I contend that if there was no opportunity for them here – that is, if no one would hire them – they would not come and certainly would not stay. In fact, we’ve seen reverse migration to Mexico and Ireland when conditions in those countries changed and opportunities improved. So if you really want to stop immigration, get those who hire (mostly unskilled) migrants to do their gardening, dig their ditches, babysit for their kids, wash their dishes and other tasks to stop doing so!

  20. “Their beliefs would likely not have been out of step with neighbors’ beliefs in those countries.”


  21. There’s no such thing as “jobs that Americans don’t want”. Only “jobs that American employers don’t want to pay a market clearing wage for.” If picking strawberries paid $100k/ year Americans would be standing in line for strawberry picking jobs.

  22. Those statements have a bunch of non-safe-space connotations attached to them.

    But it really is the common sense view that I believe is correct, and that huge amounts of america (and most of Europe) is getting annoyed with.

    The entire western world is becoming immigration-isolationist, and perhaps its largest part is islamic terrorism.

  23. @Bill Swersey

    You are pretending I don’t understand foreigners are regular human beings, just like us. You’re wrong. I probably get that better than you, really.

    I just know we don’t have any use for more of them being here. We don’t need them. In fact, their presence here hurts us. Have either of these ideas crossed your mind? No of course not, you draw a salary by bringing in colonizers.

  24. @bobbybobbob – I didn’t have you specifically in mind when I wrote my comment. I don’t know you and would not assume what you understand or don’t. Not sure how you would measure if you get it better than me or not, but if you do, that’s great.

    I will say that I think it’s extraordinarily presumptuous of you to decide that “we” don’t have any “use” for “them.” Is that how you think it works? We let in those we can “use?”

    The United States was founded as a safe-haven for people fleeing religious persecution, taking in refugees is a core American value. Refugees have made huge contributions to our country and will continue to do so. And, I might add, there are many, many areas of the country where they are welcomed with open arms.

    Don’t delude yourself and think you have any idea what might or might have crossed my mind. And it’s absurd to think that just because I work with refugees, I have lost my ability to think objectively. That’s like saying a doctor has an interest in making sure there are sick people, a dentist, sufficient tooth decay. I very much like what I do and feel I make a contribution to society and people’s lives. That said, I have many very marketable skills and if there were no more refugees in the world, I’d find another job.

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