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|“Tamerlan Tsarnaev, right, lost at the Golden Gloves championships in 2009.
A year later, a new citizenship rule blocked him.” — NY Times
You may have been musing that we would have been spared all this mayhem in Boston if we had had a stronger immigration system to keep out undesirables. But, the New York Times explains in a front page story, you’ve got it all backwards. It’s not the immigrants’ fault that they blew up the Boston Marathon, it’s our fault for not embracing the immigrants more quickly in their quest for the American Dream.
By DEBORAH SONTAG, DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and SERGE F. KOVALESKI
BOSTON — It was a blow the immigrant boxer could not withstand: after capturing his second consecutive title as the Golden Gloves heavyweight champion of New England in 2010, Tamerlan Anzorovich Tsarnaev, 23, was barred from the national Tournament of Champions because he was not a United States citizen.
The cocksure fighter, a flamboyant dresser partial to white fur and snakeskin, had been looking forward to redeeming the loss he suffered the previous year in the first round, when the judges awarded his opponent the decision, drawing boos from spectators who considered Mr. Tsarnaev dominant.
From one year to the next, though, the tournament rules had changed, disqualifying legal permanent residents — not only Mr. Tsarnaev, who was Soviet-born of Chechen and Dagestani heritage, but several other New England contenders, too. His aspirations frustrated, he dropped out of boxing competition entirely, and his life veered in a completely different direction.
Mr. Tsarnaev portrayed his quitting as a reflection of the sport’s incompatibility with his growing devotion to Islam. But as dozens of interviews with friends, acquaintances and relatives from Cambridge to Dagestan showed, that devotion, and the suspected radicalization that accompanied it, was a path he followed most avidly only after his more secular dreams were dashed in 2010 and he was left adrift.
His trajectory eventually led the frustrated athlete and his loyal younger brother, Dzhokhar, to bomb one of the most famous athletic events in this country, killing three and wounding more than 200 at the Boston Marathon, the authorities say. They say it led Mr. Tsarnaev, his application for citizenship stalled, and his brother, a new citizen and a seemingly well-adjusted college student, to attack their American hometown on Patriots’ Day, April 15.
Mr. Tsarnaev now lies in the state medical examiner’s office, his body riddled with bullets after a confrontation with the police four days after the bombings. He left behind an American-born wife who had converted to Islam, a 3-year-old daughter with curly hair, a 19-year-old brother charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, and a puzzle: Why did these two young men seemingly turn on the country that had granted them asylum?
Examining their lives for clues, the authorities have focused on Mr. Tsarnaev’s six-month trip to the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan last year. But in Cambridge, sitting on the front steps of the ramshackle, brown-shingled house where the Tsarnaev family lived for a decade, their 79-year-old landlady urged a longer lens.
“He certainly wasn’t radicalized in Dagestan,” the landlady, Joanna Herlihy, said.
Ms. Herlihy, who speaks Russian and was friends with the Tsarnaevs, said she told law enforcement officials that his trip clearly merited scrutiny. But she said that Mr. Tsarnaev’s embrace of Islam had grown more intense before that.
As his religious identification grew fiercer, Mr. Tsarnaev seemed to abandon his once avid pursuit of the American dream. He dropped out of community college and lost interest not just in boxing but also in music; he used to play piano and violin, classical music and rap, and his e-mail address was a clue to how he once saw himself: The_Professor@real-hiphop.com. He worked only sporadically, sometimes as a pizza deliverer, and he grew first a close-cropped beard and then a flowing one.
He seemed isolated, too. Since his return from Dagestan, he, his wife and his child were the only Tsarnaevs living full time in the three-bedroom apartment on Ms. Herlihy’s third floor.
Mr. Tsarnaev’s two younger sisters had long since married and moved out; his parents, now separated, had returned to Dagestan, his mother soon after a felony arrest on shoplifting charges; and his brother had left for the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, returning home only on the occasional weekend, as he did recently after damaging his 1999 green Honda Civic by texting while driving.
“When Dzhokhar used to come home on Friday night from the dormitory, Tamerlan used to hug him and kiss him — hold him, like, because he was a big, big boy, Tamerlan,” their mother, Zubeidat, 45, said last week, adding that her older son had been “handsome like Hercules.”
Not long after he gave up his boxing career, Mr. Tsarnaev married Katherine Russell of Rhode Island in a brief Islamic ceremony at a Dorchester mosque in June 2010. She has declined to speak publicly since the attacks.
His wife primarily supported the family through her job as a home health aide, scraping together about $1,200 a month to pay the rent. While she worked, Mr. Tsarnaev looked after their daughter, Zahira, who was learning to ride the tricycle still parked beside the house, neighbors said. The family’s income was supplemented by public assistance and food stamps from September 2011 to November 2012, state officials said.
It was probably not the life that Anzor Tsarnaev had imagined for his oldest child, who, even as a boy, before he developed the broad-shouldered physique that his mother described as “a masterpiece,” dreamed of becoming a famous boxer.
But then the father’s life had not gone as planned, either. Once an official in the prosecutor’s office in Kyrgyzstan, he had been reduced to working as an unlicensed mechanic in the back lot of a rug store in Cambridge. …
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was born on Oct. 21, 1986, five years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in Kalmykia, a barren stretch of Russian territory by the Caspian Sea. A photograph of him as a baby shows a cherubic child wearing a knit cap with a pompom, perched on the lap of his unsmiling mother, who has spiky black bangs and an artful pile of hair. Strikingly, she did not cover her head then, as she does now; she began wearing a hijab only a few years ago, in the United States, prodded by her son just as she was prodding him, too, to deepen his faith. …
Finally, Anzor Tsarnaev sought political asylum in the United States. He arrived first, with his younger son, in the spring of 2002. His older son, a young man of 16, followed with the rest of the family in July 2003.
Their neighborhood in Cambridge was run-down, with car repair lots where condominiums have since arisen. But the city has long been especially welcoming to immigrants and refugees; its high school has students from 75 countries.
The schools superintendent, Jeffrey Young, described Cambridge as “beyond tolerant.”
“How is it that someone could grow up in a place like this and end up in a place like that?” he said of the Tsarnaevs.
Unlike his little brother, who was well integrated into the community by the time he started high school, Mr. Tsarnaev was a genuine newcomer when he entered the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, from which he graduated in 2006. Enrolled in the large English as a Second Language program, he made friends mostly with other international students, and his demeanor was reserved, one former classmate, Luis Vasquez, said.
“The view on him was that he was a boxer and you would not want to mess with him,” Mr. Vasquez, now 25 and a candidate for the Cambridge City Council, said. “He told me that he wanted to represent the U.S. in boxing. He wanted to do the Olympics and then turn pro.”
… During a preliminary round of the New England Golden Gloves in 2010, in a breach of boxing etiquette, he entered the locker room to taunt not only the fighter he was about to face but also the fighter’s trainer. Wearing a cowboy hat and alligator-skin cowboy boots, he gave the two men a disdainful once-over and said: “You’re nothing. I’m taking you down.”
The trainer, Hector Torres, was furious and subsequently lodged a complaint, arguing that Mr. Tsarnaev should not be allowed to participate in the competition because he was not a citizen.
So, Hector Torres is the American nativist who, when you think about it, is really the one responsible for all those people getting blown up.
As it happened, Golden Gloves of America was just then changing its policy. It used to permit legal immigrants to compete in its national tournament three out of every four years, barring them only during Olympic qualifying years, James Beasley, the executive director, said. But it decided in 2010 that the policy was confusing and moved to end all participation by noncitizens in the Tournament of Champions.
So Mr. Tsarnaev, New England heavyweight champion for the second year in a row, was stymied. The immigrant champions in three other weight classes in New England were blocked from advancing, too, Mr. Russo said.
Mr. Tsarnaev was devastated. He was not getting any younger. And he was more than a year away from being even eligible to apply for American citizenship, and there appeared to be a potential obstacle in his path.
The previous summer, Mr. Tsarnaev had been arrested after a report of domestic violence.
His girlfriend at the time had called 911, “hysterically crying,” to say he had beaten her up, according to the Cambridge police report. Mr. Tsarnaev told the officers that he had slapped her face because she had been yelling at him about “another girl.”
Eventually, charges against him would be dismissed, the records show, so the episode would not have endangered his eventual citizenship application.
Because we all know that when girlfriends eventually drop charges of domestic violence it’s because they were lying from the get-go. We can’t have fanatical feminist theories about abuse standing in the way of immigrants getting citizenship, now can we?
Update: The NYT has changed the title of the article to “A Battered Dream, Then a Violent Path.”