Stories and images from the senseless April 15 Boston Marathon bombings have simultaneously enraged and inspired us. We are enraged by the hatred and carnage, and instantly inspired by the selfless heroism of people running toward the scene to help. One of those was Carlos Arredondo, a Costa Rican immigrant whose son Alexander was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, who ran to the aid of Jeff Bauman, Jr., and helped save his life. The beloved five-term Mayor Thomas Menino, who checked himself out of a hospital while recovering from surgery for a broken leg and painfully pushed himself up from a wheelchair to speak, said:
“We are one Boston. No adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of this city and its people.”
The brilliant and determined team of law enforcement personnel who brought the crisis to an end inspires us. There are more selfless heroes in this tragedy that we have heard about over the last several days, such as Justin Lane of Green Bay. He lost both legs in a bombing in Afghanistan two years ago, and he rushed to the side of several of the twenty victims who suffered amputations to offer support.
Questions and lessons intertwine from such a tragic event. How could Russian immigrants who had grown up in the rarefied community of Cambridge, across the river from Boston, develop the religious hatred to kill and maim innocent children, women, and men? But a deeper humanity causes people to rush into danger to help others. We have seen this over and over in such places as Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Tucson. The basic goodness of people is hard-wired into the human heart.
Why are there pockets of deeply anti-immigrant feelings in the United States, including in the espoused beliefs of some vocal members of the US Congress? Sure, the bombers were immigrants. So is Carlos Arredondo. Mayor Menino is of Italian descent. The United States is a nation of immigrants, from its beginnings in Boston, so the anti-immigrant sentiments we hear seemingly deny our own national heritage.
Illegal immigration has declined since 2007 as increased border security has taken hold. But some congressional voices would have us believe we are in a crisis of illegal immigration. We are not.
Could our public, inflammatory rhetoric about the immigration issue be a contributing factor in the alienation of immigrants such as the radicalized Boston bombers? When we look for the causes of violence we often find alienation to be part of the mix. There’s a lesson in here someplace.
Will members of Congress “get it” in the upcoming debates about immigration reform? Or will demagoguery prevail as it did against the will of 90 percent of the US public who favored universal background checks for gun buyers—Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Tucson notwithstanding?
What will it take for all of us to get stronger?