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Boston bombing spurs Senate debate on tighter immigration screening

Jason Reed / Reuters

Senator Chuck Schumer, part of the U.S. Senate's "Gang on Eight", speaks during a news briefing on Capitol Hill, April 18, 2013.

The Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt for suspects has already become part of the debate over immigration reform in Washington, with one high ranking Republican questioning the screening process that allows immigrants into the United States.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear testimony from Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the bipartisan immigration overhaul introduced by a group of eight senators, but she had to postpone due to ongoing developments in the search.

A ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said at the outset of the committee’s hearing, “Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.” 

Grassley asked, “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil? How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the United States? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”

But a few minutes later, Sen. Charles Schumer, D- N.Y. the chief sponsor of the bipartisan immigration overhaul, in an apparent response to Grassley, said one shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the events in Boston “or try to conflate those events with this legislation. In general, we’re a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here – has their fingerprints, photos, et cetera – has conducted background checks and no longer needs to look at needles in haystacks. In addition, 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. If there are any changes our homeland security experts tell us need to be made (in his bill), I’m committed to making them….”

In a statement Friday, Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice Education Fund and a veteran campaigner for an immigration overhaul which would allow a path to legal residence for some of those in the country illegally, said, "It’s premature to jump to final conclusions about the attackers. And it’s shameful that some on the far right are politicizing and demagoguing this issue.” Sharry said some -- whom he did not identify -- are "exploiting this tragedy in hopes of derailing immigration reform."

The Senate will likely debate the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration overhaul next month, but Grassley stressed that the bill ought to be fully debated in committee and open to amendments on the Senate floor.

Referring to the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration overhaul which was supposed to end illegal immigration and prevent any future amnesty, Grassley said, “We screwed up – and we can’t afford to screw up again.”

The committee was hearing Friday from two witnesses, conservative attorney Peter Kirsanow – who indicated his opposition to the bipartisan bill because he said it would lower wages for U.S. low-skill workers -- and former director of Congressional Budget Office Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who supported the bill.

 

Related links:

Suspects to carjack victim: We are the bombers 

 

Who are the brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombing? 

An empty metropolis: Photos show deserted streets of Boston  

What we know: Timeline of terror hunt

‘Dedicated officer’ gunned down by Boston Marathon suspects at MIT

Slideshow: Bombings at Boston Marathon

Boston bombing spurs Senate debate on tighter immigration screening 

Photos from Bostonians locked down amid terror hunt 

Tweeting police chatter creates confusion over Boston suspect

 

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