Don't use the New York terror attack to justify watering down our freedoms

The gruesome terror attack that left eight people dead on a New York City bicycle path Tuesday afternoon spotlighted a troubling reality: Society cannot safeguard itself against every dangerous eventuality.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of people who will pretend that it can — and who will tell you they know how to do it. Already, those who oppose immigration are making hay out of the fact that the attack’s perpetrator entered the country seven years ago through what’s known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. And President Trump pushed the discussion further into dangerous ground Wednesday when he seemed to urge that safeguards in the legal system be undercut in the name of swift vengeance. “We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now,” Trump said.

The president’s insistence that the justice system in this country is a “joke” and a “laughingstock” built on political correctness is worrisome, given his authoritarian tendencies. The idea that constitutional protections should be gutted because Trump is upset is both legally and morally absurd.

Of course it is perfectly reasonable to be emotional after such an attack. To grieve over the dead and the survivors, whose desire to enjoy a fall afternoon near the river turned into an unimaginable nightmare. It was a horrific attack, and we will learn more about the accused killer as investigators do their work. What is known at the moment is that Sayfullo Saipov, 29, arrived from Uzbekistan in 2010 and passed a rigid vetting process before being issued a diversity visa as part of a program to ensure that the U.S. draws immigrants from all parts of the world. He began his American life in Ohio before moving on to Florida and then New Jersey. Friends say Saipov began getting aggressive and argumentative about political issues only around 2014. While he was a man “with monsters inside,” as a friend said, he didn’t espouse views that tied him to Islamic State or other violent Islamic extremism. Only in recent months did the FBI become aware of Saipov through an investigation into an Uzbek terror suspect with whom he had unspecified contact.

Would better vetting seven years ago have ferreted out Saipov’s future decision to rent a truck and drive it down a Manhattan bicycle path this week? No. Would ending the diversity lottery preclude a similar attack in the future? No again. The relatively few immigrants who have committed acts of terror on U.S. soil didn’t come here as scheming agents bent on destruction, but became radicalized after spending time in the U.S.

Rather than slamming the door on future immigration — or moving further down Trump’s preferred road of judging immigrants based on their religion — the United States would be better served by examining what it is that radicalizes some young Muslims after they move here. Lessening freedoms and legal protections will not make us safer. It will make us prisoners of our fears.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion or Facebook

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World