Boston Bombings Cast Shadow over Immigration Reform
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Boston Bombings Cast Shadow over Immigration Reform

REUTERS/Jason Reed

In offering a post mortem on why his gun control measure went down to defeat in the Senate last week, Sen. Joseph Manchin III of West Virginia told reporters,  “I’ve always said that facts will set you free; I just never knew how hard it was to get the facts out.”

Manchin was referring to the challenges of overcoming the National Rifle Association’s mischaracterizations of his bipartisan proposal to extending criminal background checks to prospective gun buyers at gun shows and on the Internet. Manchin’s bitter lesson might apply as well to the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” pressing for passage of major immigration reform in the wake of last week’s Boston Marathon bombings  allegedly  committed by two brothers with Chechen roots -- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) made it clear on Friday, just hours after Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police in a Boston suburb and a massive manhunt for his brother, that the terrorist act would cast a long shadow over the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings. He said the hearings that began on Friday would afford an opportunity to “refocus” on the events in Boston and their implications for overhauling the immigration law.

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Over the weekend, skepticism about the immigration reform bill from the right was further fueled by reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been interviewed by the FBI in January 2011 at the behest of the Russian government about suspected terrorist sympathies. What's more, he spent six months in Dagestan in 2012, a period that some analysts say might have marked an important point in his alleged path to the Boston bombings

Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol said on Fox News Sunday, “I’m more skeptical of [immigration reform] now than I was six or seven months ago…. Maybe someone should look at [Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s] six-month visit to the predominantly Muslim republic in the north Caucasus region of Russia  “before we move ahead with 880 pages of immigration reform.”

Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.) appearing on the same program, sharply criticized the FBI for failing to adequately follow up on leads about the brother that might have prevented last week’s bombing tragedy that killed three people and seriously wounded more than 170 others and was followed by the murder of a campus police officer. “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.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.) a prominent proponent of immigration reform, said during the Judiciary Committee’s opening day of hearings on Friday, “I’d like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston or try to conflate those events with this legislation.”

Last week’s horrific events that ended with the arrest of the wounded younger brother Friday evening in a Watertown residential backyard will almost certainly hover over the Judiciary Committee hearings when they resume Monday morning.

The “Gang of Eight” members, includingRep. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.) a darling of the Tea Party, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, and Schumer formally unveiled their immigration plan on Thursday with a rally that drew attendance by prominent business and labor leaders and representative of Catholic and Protestant groups.

The proposed bill would offer a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country today, but only after the government has verified that the borders are secure and illegal immigrants pay fines and wait for more than a decade to finally obtain citizenship. There would also be important changes in the visa laws for both low and high-skill workers, as well as farm workers.

The bill marks a golden opportunity for major bipartisan legislative success this year because of the eagerness of both parties to curry favor with Hispanic-American voters. Yet the bill faces strong opposition from conservatives and anti-reform groups that insist the legislation doesn’t provide adequate assurance that border security will be tightened even more before millions of illegal immigrants are allowed to seek legal status or even citizenship, and that the measure could lead to massive government spending in the coming decades..

Now there are the added security concerns brought on by the Boston bombings and killings.

RELATED: Immigration Reform Costs: $7 Billion or $2.6 Trillion?

Audrey Singer, an immigration expert with the Brookings Institution, said the Boston bombings “complicate an already complicated upcoming debate. Some people will use it as an issue to try to derail this thing,” she added in an interview with The Fiscal Times on Friday. “The bottom line is that there are a lot of people that want to do harm to this country. Some of them come from abroad, some of them live here and some of them have lived here for a while. It may or may not impede immigration reform, but at this point I think it’s important to be very careful not to conflate the issues.”

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an organization promoting immigration reform, complained that Grassley – the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee -- had stooped to “shameless demagoguery” at Friday's committee meeting before all the details were known about the two Boston suspects. “We expect that from a talk radio host, but we don’t expect it from our leading Republicans in the Senate,” Sharry told The Fiscal Times.
Sharry said he doubted immigration reform foes will succeed in using the Boston bombings to derail immigration reform effort, “just because I think the momentum for immigration reform is very strong."

But others are less certain about that.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative group highly critical of the “Gang of Eight” proposals, said the Boston situation “could be significant” in the outcome of the immigration reform debate.

“More broadly speaking, it does raise real doubts about the Obama administration claims about how good immigration security is,” Krikorian said in an interview. “Thankfully, it moves attention away from just the border with Mexico, which is important but isn’t the whole story.”

“Now the ‘Gang of Eight’ folks are going to say, well, look this [the Boston tragedy] is the reason we need to have immigration reform, because we’re going to have a more secure system,” he added. “But you know, we’ve heard that crap before.”