The bombings in Boston continued to reverberate through the immigration reform debate today as the Senate Judiciary Committee held its second hearing on the Gang of Eight immigration overhaul. A number of Republicans say the violence should give the senators pause as they consider reform. The bill’s drafters, however, said today and over the weekend that Boston injects additional impetus to move the bill forward with haste.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., opened the hearing this morning by urging his colleagues not to let the violence of last week interrupt the fledgling deliberations.
“[O]pponents of comprehensive immigration reform began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Senator Leahy said. “Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”
During the first committee hearing on the bill last week, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said Congress should consider the immigration bill in light of the events in Boston.
“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 [immigration] system,” Grassley said.
And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., submitted a letter today to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to hold action until the Boston bombings have been fully investigated.
“We should not proceed until we understand the specific failure of our immigration system,” Paul wrote. “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate…[from] an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed act of terrorism.”
Paul’s letter comes in reaction to the widespread assumption that the bombers acted based on radicalism associated with Chechnya, a fact that has not been established. The Tsarnaev brothers, who are suspects in the bombing, are reported to be of Chechen heritage. But contrary to Paul’s implication, neither of them ever lived in Chechnya, according to information that’s been released thus far. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, was born in Russia and Dzokhar, the younger, was born in Kyrgyzstan, raised in the United States from the age of 9 and is a U.S. citizen.
Paul also said the government should consider a new version of the Special Registration system, which is a discredited post-9/11 immigration program that compelled men from a list of mostly Muslim countries to sign up on a government list. Many registrants were told the system would be innocuous. But instead, more than 80,000 Muslim and Middle Eastern men between the ages of 16 and 60 were interrogated, detained and deported.
The program, which civil rights advocates decried as one of the most discriminatory parts of the post-9/11 security apparatus, was largely ended in 2011.
Members of the Gang of Eight, the group of Senators who introduced an 844-page comprehensive immigration reform bill last week, said that the Boston bombings indeed should inform the reform deliberations, but as a reason for hasty passage, not delay.
“What happened in Boston and international terrorism, I think, should urge us to act quicker, not slower when it comes to getting the 11 million identified,” Gang of Eight member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on CNN yesterday.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also a member of the Senate group, said today that the bill might need to include some tighter terrorism-related provisions but that it should move forward quickly.
His comments created a ruckus in the committee hearing. As Schumer called on his colleagues to refrain from using the “terrible tragedy in Boston … as an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years,” Sen. Grassley interrupted: “I never said that,” Grassley yelled. “I didn’t say anything about delaying the bill.”
Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold another hearing where Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is scheduled to testify. She was supposed to speak at a hearing on Friday but did not appear because of the events in Boston.