Senator Says Boston Attack Should Factor in Immigration Debate
By ASHLEY PARKER and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
Published: April 19, 2013
WASHINGTON — A senior Republican senator said Friday that the approaching political debate about an immigration overhaul should take into account the revelation that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing had apparently emigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan.
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Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
After a feeding, Rosemary Martell carried Angie Martinez into a Senate hearing on immigration.
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Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened a hearing on immigration legislation by stressing the issue’s importance “particularly in light of all that’s happening in Massachusetts right now and over the last week.”
“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Mr. Grassley said in his opening statement. “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.”
Friday’s hearing was expected to offer an early glimpse into how the Senate would react to immigration legislation that a bipartisan group of senators introduced this week. Instead, it was overshadowed by developments in the Boston bombing case, which also affected the meeting directly when the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, who was scheduled to testify before the committee on border security and enforcement, had to cancel her appearance to oversee her department’s involvement in the investigation.
According to Homeland Security officials, one suspect — Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, who was captured Friday night — arrived in the United States in 2002, and remained as part of an asylum claim by his father. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed Friday, arrived in that period but applied for asylum around 2005.“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” Mr. Grassley asked. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.?”
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the bipartisan group behind the legislation, urged caution about linking the bombings to flaws in the country’s immigration system.
“Before I get to the bill, I’d like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston, or try to conflate those events with this legislation,” Mr. Schumer said. “In general, we are a safer country when law enforcement knows who was here, has their fingerprints, photos, etc., has conducted background checks and no longer needs to look at needles through haystacks.”
Referring to the legal immigration program that the brothers most likely used, Mr. Schumer added: “Both the refugee program and the asylum program have been significantly strengthened in the past five years, such that we are much more careful about screening people and determining who should and should not be coming into the country.”
The hearing formally kicked off consideration of a plan that would increase border security and would quickly legalize many of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, eventually offering them a path to full citizenship. Opponents of the plan and conservative pundits have already cited the Boston bombings as a reason to move slowly.
But Mr. Grassley received a rebuke from both sides of the aisle. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both Republicans and members of the bipartisan group, released a statement Friday afternoon urging their colleagues and the public not to link the Boston bombings with an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
“Some have already suggested that the circumstances of this terrible tragedy are justification for delaying or stopping entirely the effort for comprehensive immigration reform,” the joint statement read. “In fact, the opposite is true: immigration reform will strengthen our nation’s security by helping us identify exactly who has entered our country and who has left — a basic function of government that our broken immigration system is incapable of accomplishing today.”
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, similarly said he did not think the Boston bombings should affect the legislation.
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Julia Preston contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 20, 2013, on pag