Will the Boston Bombing Derail Immigration Reform? (Analysis)

PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tears a page from the national health care bill during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol March 21, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Monday's deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon appeared to put talk of politics on hold in the nation's capital. But underneath the surface, there's speculation that the attack may be used to derail the immigration reform effort in Congress.

Before delving into the details here, it's important to put this speculation in perspective. Most major indications point to the bill moving forward as planned. Senate negotiators are expected to formally introduce their bill today and the two top senators in the so-called "Gang of Eight," Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) will brief President Obama on the bill this afternoon (a press conference about the bill was postponed Tuesday out of respect for the victims of the Boston attack).

But today, one congressman hypothesized that the bombing could become an albatross for immigration reform since it could place a heightened emphasis on national security.

Enter Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who used the Boston attack as a reason to slow the pace of work on the bill.

"Some of the speculation that has come out is that yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa," King told National Review Online. "If that's the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture."

Let's stop here.

First, King has long been a staunch critic of immigration reform that legalizes the undocumented (last year, he even compared immigrants to dogs). So King's attempt to use the attack to underscore his previously-held opposition to immigration reform should not come as a surprise. It's not clear that lawmakers sitting on the fence about immigration will swing against the bill because of the Boston attack, or even if other opponents would use it as a reason to vote no.

Second, King's speculation about the perpetrator of the attack (to put it mildly) stretches the facts. Authorities did question a Saudi man legally in the U.S. on a student visa who was hospitalized after the attacks. But law enforcement officials have questioned a number of other people during the course of the investigation and the Saudi student is not considered a suspect.

President Obama said at the White House on Tuesday that authorities still do not know who is responsible for the attacks. They also aren't clear as to whether it's a foreign or domestic terror organization or a lone individual.

"Clearly we're at the beginning of our investigation," Obama said. "It will take time to follow every lead and determine what happened."

King's comments may have been predictable and premature, but that hasn't stopped advocates from worrying that his attitude could grow.

Colorlines' Seth Freed Wessler documented some of that concern this morning (before King's comments) in a post titled "History Would Repeat Itself if Boston Derailed Immigration Reform." As Colorlines noted, President George W. Bush was on the cusp of taking up comprehensive immigration reform in 2001 when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, which helped usher in over a decade of enhanced border security and immigration enforcement.

"This could knock it all down," an unnamed "Beltway advocate" told Wessler.

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos also took to Twitter Monday afternoon to note the chilling effect Sept. 11 had on immigration reform then.

"No es el momento de discutirlo. Pero reforma migratoria puede ser afectada dependiendo del origen de las explosiones. Remember 9/11?"

(Translation: This is not the moment to discuss this, but immigration reform may be impacted, depending on the origin of the explosions. Remember 9/11?)

In a better world, everyone would have allowed the victims to be buried before rushing to speculate and pushing to have this kind of conversation. But sadly, we don't live in that world. We live in this one.

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