WASHINGTON -- There remain many unknown facts about the Boston bombers from the faraway region of Chechnya, but perhaps the most important ones have not even been brought up.
WHY were Chechens, of all peoples, even here in the United States? Why had they, apparently, been awarded asylum status by an American immigration judge? And does the present policy discussion about immigration law intend to correct the gross violations of asylum law in any new legislation?
First, the Chechens. In all the words published about the Tsarnaev family over the last week, there is nothing to indicate that they had the right to asylum in America. This roughly 30-year-old right is reserved for people who are in danger of persecution in their home country. It is also specifically conceived as a "temporary protection to enable people to work for change in their own countries," according to Dan Stein, president of the Federation of American Immigration Reform and a historical specialist on all areas of immigration.
But the Tsarnaevs barely lived in war-torn Chechnya, if at all. They did not even live in the neighboring former Soviet republic of Dagestan. They lived in Kyrgyzstan, a small, mountainous republic in Central Asia where the Soviets sent legions of political prisoners.
When I was there in 1992, I found Kyrgyzstan one of the more pleasant places in remote Central Asia. I was always amused when the Kyrgyz would joke, "This isn't the end of the world, but you can see it from here." Not only was the father, Anzor Tsarnaev, not persecuted, he held a highly desirable job in the prosecutor's office in Bishkek.
There is some record of his moving temporarily to Chechnya, with its brutal Caucasian traditions, but only briefly. Yet, somehow Anzor and his wife, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, got permission to come to America as refugees 10 years ago. The younger son, Dzhokhar, now recovering in Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess hospital, followed in what is called a "derivative asylum."
But once in America, with virtually every advantage of the country at their fingertips -- for Lord's sake, the younger boy was studying at the University of Massachusetts and the older boy competed in the national Golden Gloves tournament in boxing! -- the family blithely ignored the meaning and the prerequisites for their precious positioning as refuges. Anzor, the father, apparently broke with his wife and simply returned to Dagestan, the region next door to Chechnya and now even more violent.
No matter now that he had been awarded his precious status in America because he would have to have said that in some way he was persecuted in that region. No matter that America took him in and his big extended family.
The father went "home" to Dagestan not because it really was home, but because he felt important there, and in America he had to start from the bottom up. In Dagestan, he could identify with the great bloody warriors of Caucasian history. He was somebody again, a Caucasian man who drank wine out of animal horns and kept women in their place. Papa went home not to change the society, as his asylum requested, but to enjoy it.
And since there is no record of his or his family's ever having been in danger in the first place, why the devil not?
There is a lot of talk, too, about Tamerlan, the older and more pugnacious son, now dead, making a long trip to Dagestan last year. Thoughts fly to al-Qaida training camps and warriors on horseback in the Caucasus mountains fighting for beautiful blondes. But The New York Times traced his trip on the ground and found that, far from jumping 10-foot barriers and building bombs, Tamerlan "slept late, hung around at home, visited family and helped his father renovate a storefront."
My own judgment on Tamerlan is that he traveled back to his homeland for the same reasons as his father. That, and because in that tormented, bloody part of the world, invaded and overrun by Persians, Turks and Russians, Tamerlan could feel, too, like a powerful Caucasus warrior chief.
He's the one who had said he "had no American friends," that he couldn't understand "them." I don't know. We've got plenty of goofy types here, without going all the way to Dagestan.
If this story of his trip to Dagestan is true, as reported, and here we enter a new room in this house of irony, it kept him from his desire to become an American citizen when he returned.
We return to the "why?" They could be here, says Dan Stein, because "the asylum administration is totally outside of public view. There are widely divergent standards held by immigration judges (who decide on asylum cases) and it is all in secret. There is no integrity in the process."
So we don't know right now why this troubled family from this troubled part of the world is here at all. We don't know whether the new immigration bills will help stem these expensive and tragic wrongs.
But we do know that had they not been here at all, this would never have happened.
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)
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