Blog: Treating Immigrants as Assets, Not Threats

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Written by Gabriele E. Mastroianni

Let’s start with an assumption: migrants are not criminals or terrorists. It’s an easy assumption but it is also so often easily blurred by demagoguery.

A person could become a criminal if he can’t find his way and can’t integrate himself in society. It’s not a matter of religion or nationality, any young adult can go through a process of disintegration, buy a gun and go home, school or the shopping center and start shooting. Most of the times the victims are randomly chosen.

Integration—or disintegration—is a longer process that can take decades, even a generation. It’s a fact that, since 2001, only one terrorist was on a tourist visa. Most of the others were “homegrown” U.S. citizens or naturalized U.S. citizens. Same goes in Europe; most of the European terrorists—like the ones of Charlie Hebdo massacre—were born and raised in the EU countries. In the last 40 years 20 out of 3.25 million refugees that arrived in the U.S. attempted or committed terrorism on U.S. soil. Less than 0.001%. No American has been killed by a refugee after the 1980’s.

Those escaping from war and luckily safely make it on the other side—usually after a long and perilous travel—are doing it because they want to rebuild a life in safety.

It is not a contradiction, in fact, that immigrants can make society safer. Studies in Italy have found that legalization of immigrants can halve the economic crimes committed by former immigrants. For every illegal immigrant that does not commit a crime, five lives are changed forever: that of the victim, the one of the partner in crime—most of the time the mafia or criminal societies, which are the only ones that can provide a job and money; the ones of the members of the community of the victim, which can feel safer; the ones of the members of the community of the criminal, which will not be exposed to racism and revenge; and most importantly, the life of the illegal immigrant.

Removing illegal immigrants from the black market can start a virtuous cycle by cutting the income of criminal societies. I am not convinced that sending them back home could have the same positive impact. 

Immigrants are an asset in the fight against terrorism. Many are brilliant and highly educated people that can be useful resources. They lived in the same suburbs, came from same background, shared the same dialect of the terrorists or terrorists’ families. Immigrants can be our most important asset against terrorist cells in Europe and the U.S. Enlisting them in that fight could make the very difference in whether we are victorious or not in ending terrorism.

About the author: An Italian national, Gabriele E. Mastroianni is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne, Australia after spending years in the Middle East. He covers a broad range of topics, focusing on the EU-MENA, migration, and security.