The two bombing suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were members of an ethnic Chechen family that received asylum in 2002 under U.S. immigration law, prompting many Republicans to urge caution on border-control reform.
“Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said during his opening remarks on the 844-page bill. “I urge restraint in that regard. Refugees and asylum-seekers have enriched the fabric of this country from our founding. . . . Let no one be so cruel as to use these heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”
Sitting next to Leahy, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) responded to the chairman by comparing the GOP concerns to the push by Democrats for greater gun control after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December.
“When you proposed gun legislation, we did not accuse you of using the Newtown killings as an excuse,” Grassley said. “I think we’re taking advantage of an opportunity — when once in 25 years we deal with immigration — to make sure every base is covered.”
While the hearing was underway, Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), a co-sponsor of the immigration bill, issued separate statements calling on lawmakers to take time to learn whether U.S. immigration laws did not properly vet the Tsarnaev family before granting asylum protections.
Rubio, who did not attend the hearing, said he disagreed with Leahy that Boston was not relevant to the debate. He said that the bill would improve border security but that “Congress needs time to conduct more hearings and investigate how our immigration and national security systems could be improved going forward. The attack reinforces why immigration reform should be a lengthy, open and transparent process.”
Proponents of immigration reform fear that critics will use legislative delays to lengthen the debate and introduce amendments aimed at killing the agreement, which features a path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants. A similar strategy helped doom a bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate in 2007.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama thinks lawmakers should move forward without delay.
“We need to bring out of the shadows the roughly 11 million residents of this country who are here illegally,” Carney said. “The process of moving along the earned path to citizenship, and the various hurdles that have to be cleared in that process, allows for much more information to be known by the relevant authorities and agencies about these individuals, and that’s very important.”