Concern that some are using last week’s Boston Marathon bombings as an excuse to slow or derail action on major immigration reform legislation was front and center Monday morning as the Senate Judiciary Committee resumed hearing on immigration reform.
A seemingly agitated Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) chastised conservatives who spent the weekend invoking the terror in Boston as an excuse to block the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill that strengthens border security and provides a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. The bombings and the subsequent murder of a college campus police officer are believed to have been perpetrated by two brothers of Chechen background who received asylum under U.S. immigration laws in 2002.
“I urge restraint in that regard,” Leahy said at the start of day long hearings into the proposed legislation “Let no one be so cruel as try to use the heinous acts of these two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hard working people.”
Leahy complained that too often in the past the committee has broken along partisan lines on compelling issues, including the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and gun control legislation, which Democrats backed but Republicans opposed. “Let this committee set an example and bring to the Senate – which should be the conscience of the nation – the opportunity to create an immigration system worthy of American values,” he said.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, replied, “If you want to avoid partisanship I would say let’s be very deliberate, and I think you have been very deliberate so far.” But Grassley repeated a point he made last Friday, that he views the immigration hearings as an opportunity to refocus on the issues at hand in Boston.
“I think we are taking advantage of an opportunity when once in 25 years we deal with immigration to make sure every base is covered,” Grassley said this morning.
When Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the “Gang of Eight,” complained about “those who are pointing to what happened – the terrible tragedy in Boston, as . . . an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years,” Grassley erupted: “I never said that. I never said that.”
Leahy gaveled the men to order and stressed that there would be plenty of time for discussion about Boston and other issues and to offer amendments to the “Gang of Eight” plan. Schumer also sought to defuse the conflict by saying he hadn’t meant to direct his criticism at Grassley or other members of the committee, but to other conservatives who over the weekend invoked the Boston bombing and killings as an excuse to slow or block action on immigration reform.
“There were people out there – you’ve read it in the newspapers – who have said it,” Schumer said. “And what I’m saying is, if there are things that come up as a result of what happened in Boston that need improvement, that require improvement, let’s add them to the bill. Because certainly our bill tightens up things in a way that would make a Boston less likely. Changes in the exit -entry system of visas, requiring the 11 million here to register and all of that makes it a tighter bill. Maybe it should be made tighter still. We’re open to that. Because I’ve heard lots of calls from people out in the country saying delay.”
The two ethnic Chechen brothers suspected of setting off the bombs that killed three and injured more than 170 others immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan as minors in 2002. The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed early last Friday in a shootout with police. The other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was taken into custody late that evening by authorities and was hospitalized for gunshot wounds. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became a U.S. citizen in 2012.
Over the weekend, some Republicans echoed Grassley’s concerns about not rushing to action on immigration reform. “I agree with Senator Grassley,” Sen. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.) said on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” He warned, “You usually end up with bad policy if you do it in an emotional way or an emotional reaction.”
Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.) appearing on Fox News Sunday, sharply criticized the FBI for failing to adequately follow up on leads from the Russian government about Tamerlan Tsarnaev that might have prevented last week’s bombing tragedy. “But I don’t think we should use that as an excuse to stop the debate,” said King, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
Dozens of immigration advocates lined up outside the hearing room Monday, wearing T-shirts reading, “Protect the Path” and “Keep Families Together.” The immigration bill features a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants; increased funding for new border surveillance drones, fencing and customs agents; new visa programs for low- and highly skilled workers; and a reduction in visas for extended family members trying to be reunited with relatives in the United States.
Freshman Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a staunch advocate of the “Gang of Eight” plan, urged the committee to abandon efforts to grant a path to citizens for illegal immigrants and instead focus on areas of common agreement.
“In my view, any bill that insists upon that [pathway to citizenship jeopardizes the likelihood of passing any immigration reform bill,” Cruz said. “So it is my hope that passing a bipartisan bill addressing areas of common grievance -- securing the borders, improving legal immigration, and improving agricultural workers to insure that we have workers here out of the shadows, able to work legally.”
Schumer said that polls show Americans are overwhelming in support of immigration reform – including granting a pathway to citizenship – and that “no responsible person should be aiming to keep the status quo in order.”