Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 2, 2014

Boston Bombings Worry Immigration Supporters

Proponents of a comprehensive immigration overhaul are concerned that an effort begun with so much promise could be derailed by the Boston Marathon bombings.

A political operative working to build support for congressional action said that proponents of an immigration overhaul spent Friday morning discussing fears that the bombing suspects’ status as legal immigrants could provide opponents of comprehensive changes with fresh public backing in their bid to block an overhaul. This source said that supporters of an overhaul also believe what happened in Boston could help make the case for the changes, but they remain worried.

“There was a concern that what was happening would postpone the hearings,” said this political operative, who was a part of the supporters’ Friday morning conversations. “The anti-immigration reform forces have not found much to shoot at in current conversation, or in the Senate proposal. They’re grasping for anything, whether Marco phones, which is ridiculous, or the Boston bombings, which is horrific.”

The first hearing on the Senate “gang of eight” immigration overhaul bill did in fact proceed as scheduled Friday morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., indicated that the April 22 hearing also will occur as scheduled. But Senate Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, quickly used the forum to connect the Boston bombings to the drive for an immigration overhaul on Capitol Hill.

As Humberto Sanchez and Niels Lesniewski reported on Roll Call earlier Friday, Grassley said he “appreciates the opportunity to talk about immigration. Particularly in light of all that’s happening in Massachusetts right now and over the last week.”

News reports have indicated that the suspects in the Boston bombings — one of whom was killed by police overnight — originally hail from the Chechnya region of Russia. That predominantly Muslim region has been the site of much unrest and civil war as separatists fight for independence from Russia. Some news outlets have also reported the bombing suspects may have come to the U.S. with their parents and were granted asylum.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the conservative Florida Republican and gang of eight member who has worked hard to promote the Senate bill, shot back Friday through a spokesman at immigration overhaul opponents who might use the Boston bombings to mobilize political opposition to his legislation.

However, Rubio notably did not dismiss the idea of incorporating lessons from the bombings in the Senate bill. Rubio is also making the case that the Senate bill could bolster national security by making it easier for the government to identify who is in the country and why they are here.

“There are legitimate policy questions to ask and answer about what role our immigration system played, if any, in what happened,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said. “Regardless of the circumstances in Boston, immigration reform that strengthens our borders and gives us a better accounting of who is in our country and why will improve our national security. Americans will reject any attempt to tie the losers responsible for the attacks in Boston with the millions of law-abiding immigrants currently living in the US and those hoping to immigrate here in the future.”

That sentiment has been echoed by gang of eight members Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., as well.

Particularly on the right, political commentators and analysts said that the immigration debate should at least include discussion of how the legislation unveiled this week by the Senate’s gang of eight  would affect the country’s ability to protect against further terrorist attacks committed inside the United States by immigrants, whether legal or illegal.

Some conservatives said the Senate Judiciary hearings set for Friday and next week should be canceled. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a vocal opponent of the Senate bill, charged that Leahy declined to cancel the hearing because proponents of the legislation want to “rush” it through with “minimum public scrutiny.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the Senate proposal to overhaul U.S. immigration law (and, presumably, a similar bill under development in the House) took to Twitter to predict the death of the overhaul effort. Some political analysts agreed. Conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who has expressed skepticism – but also openness – to supporting an immigration overhaul bill depending on what it looks like, wrote this Friday morning on his blog:

“The push for immigration reform has a new set of challenges today.  Of course the bill isn’t dead, but its sponsors should delay debate on the bill until there is a full and complete account of how the children who became terrorists came into the country.”

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