SAN DIEGO - When did the story of the Boston Marathon bombing turn a corner and become about immigration?
The seeds were planted more than 200 years ago. Not all that long after the Founding Fathers drafted a Constitution "to form a more perfect union," Americans became concerned not only with who's coming to our shores, how many, and from where, but also with how the newcomers might behave.
It has always been a common concern that immigrants might commit more than their share of crimes. Those who practiced other religions with rituals and customs that might seem strange to some (see: Catholicism) were seen as different, and different was treated as synonymous with deviant. The assumption was: Those who are different don't obey the rules.
And indeed, even with those ethnic groups that, for the most part, came to the United States legally -- Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, etc. -- there were always individuals who skirted the law once they got here. And when these people did terrible things, it was easy to conclude that it was because they were part of a culture that was somehow morally deficient.
Of course, there were, and have always been, WASPs who committed crimes. But, for some reason, these kinds of sweeping generalizations and broad indictments were never extended to this group.
Another constant worry was that somehow the process of inculcating new arrivals with what we had termed more wholesome American values wouldn't take hold, that the immigrants wouldn't assimilate and acculturate. And whenever those who had come on the last wave caught a whiff of this, before you could say "Ellis Island," there would be a clamoring to pull up the drawbridge and keep out undesirables.
In this nation of immigrants that has always feared immigrants, that's how we roll.
And so, it's disappointing but not terribly surprising that -- almost immediately after it became known that the ethnic Chechen Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerlan, 26, and Dzhokhar, 19) were the prime suspects in the bombing -- some began to worry not only about terrorism and public safety but also an immigration policy that many fear has become so lenient as to become a suicide pact.
Soon, politicians, pundits and people at the water cooler were suggesting that the heinous act that these young men had allegedly committed had everything to do with who they were and where they were from. Moreover, for those who want to shut the door to all kinds of foreigners -- and kill the chances of the first meaningful reform of the immigration system in more than a quarter-century -- the fact that the suspects were foreign-born was awfully convenient.
In fact, a few days after the bombing, before much was known, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. While we don't yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system."
What jumped out was the weakness of Grassley's argument and his transparent attempt to link the Boston bombing to immigration reform. Never mind that both of the Tsarnaev brothers came to the United States legally, and spent most of their formative years here. Never mind that, according to those who knew them, there were no signs of radical extremism -- nothing that immigration officials could have detected and used as an excuse to bar them from entering.
By most accounts, these were average young men growing up in America. That point was not lost on Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov who, in a statement on Instagram, disputed any connection between the brothers and his republic. Kadyrov said of the alleged bombers, "They were raised in the United States, and their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. It is necessary to seek the roots of this evil in America."
Sounds like good advice. As we've been taught over the years by numerous acts of violence -- Oklahoma City, Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, etc. -- Americans don't have to import evil. We can grow our own.
Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist.