Could the Boston Marathon Bombings Derail Immigration Reform?

Some lawmakers say lessons learned from the attack could be used to form legislation.

Posted: 04/23/2013 02:30 PM EDT

In the wake of last week's bombings near the Boston Marathon's finish line, leading congressional Republicans are calling for the pace of immigration reform to slow down. They are using the immigrant background of suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens who emigrated to the U.S. from the predominantly Muslim nation of Kyrgyzstan 10 years ago.

"We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul wrote in a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism?"

Citing a request by the Russian government that the FBI interview Tamerlan two years ago that might have required more follow-up, Paul suggested that Congress include a measure for an entry-exit registration program in the Senate's immigration reform bill, similar to the system Congress created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act now under consideration got into a heated exchange on Monday when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) suggested that some of his colleagues may try to use the bombings as an excuse to delay moving forward on immigration reform.

"The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform. That's what every poll says," said Schumer, who helped write the bill, adding that "they will not be satisfied with calls for delays or impediments toward the bill."

His concerns may be warranted. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fellow member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators who crafted the bill, appears to agree with Rand and suggested that Congress learn more about what happened in Boston before moving forward.

"I disagree with those who say that the terrorist attack in Boston has no bearing on the immigration debate. Any immigration reform we pursue should make our country safer and more secure," Rubio said in a statement. "If there are flaws in our immigration system that were exposed by the attack in Boston, any immigration reform passed by Congress this year should address those flaws. Congress needs time to conduct more hearings and investigate how our immigration and national security systems could be improved going forward."

In a move that surprised many, House Speaker John Boehner and former GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan each publicly stated that the bombings should not cause delays.

"If we fix our immigration system, it may actually help us understand who all is here, why they're here and what legal status they have," Boehner said on Fox News.

Ryan, reports Politico, made joint appearances in Chicago on Monday with Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinios, to promote immigration reform.

"We have a broken immigration system and, if anything, what we see in Boston is that we have to fix and modernize our immigration system for lots of reasons," Ryan told reporters. "National security reasons, economic security reasons. For all those reasons we need to fix our broken immigration system."

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