Boston Bombing Seeps Into Immigration Debate (Analysis)

PHOTO: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. take questions during a news conference on immigration reform legislation, Thursday, April 18, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. take questions during a news conference on immigration reform legislation, Thursday, April 18, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the need to exercise caution before connecting the Boston Marathon bombing to the immigration reform debate. Why? Our broader immigration policy and America's immigrant roots should not be completely tainted by a few people have done the unthinkable.

But with Friday's developments in the case, perhaps it was inevitable that someone would take it as a chance to turn this into an example of why immigration reform should be put on hold.

The two suspects in the bombing, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were born in Kyrgyzstan and are of Chechen ethnicity, according to ABC News. The suspect who still remains at large, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been in the United States since he was 7, a neighbor told ABC. At least one of the brothers is a legal permanent resident of the United States. And a dramatic manhunt for the younger Tsarnaev brother continued throughout the morning.

From the outset, the Boston attack loomed over a Senate hearing on immigration reform on Friday. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was scheduled to testify, but her appearance was postponed due to the developments in Boston early this morning. Still, the status of the suspected perpetrators piqued the interest of some lawmakers at the hearing.

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the conversation was "especially important in light of everything that's happened in Massachusetts."

"This hearing is an opportunity to refocus" on important issues, such as "securing our homeland," Grassley added.

The Iowa senator also said that finding out what happened in Boston "will help shed light on the weaknesses in our system," such as the effectiveness of security checkpoints at the borders and air and seaports.

The Boston attacks may beckon questions about border security. But the bill rolled out by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" addresses many of those issues. The proposal would spend at least $4.5 billion on additional border security measures, including the implementation of stricter tracking on who enters and exits the countries on visas.

As I noted on Monday, almost all who have linked the Boston bombing to the immigration debate have been opponents of legalizing undocumented immigrants. And Grassley so far has indicated he's a skeptic of "Gang of Eight" plan.

Other senators at the hearing tried to pump the breaks on Grassley's line of thought.

"I'd like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions about the events in Boston," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), one of the leading Democrats on the "Gang of Eight."

Schumer underscored that people should wait for "all the actual facts come out" before coming to conclusions about the circumstances of the Boston bombing and their relevance to immigration.

It's also important to note that not all opponents of the "Gang of Eight" plan shared Grassley's point of view.

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure that it will," Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told reporters when asked if Boston would impact the debate. "There is always that possibility. But one way or another this is an issue that has far predated the tragedies of this week and will still be here long after this week."

Outsiders also reiterated that the Boston bombing and the immigration debate should remain separate. Tony Fratto, a former spokesman in the George W. Bush administration, took to Twitter to express his frustration over the growing chatter about immigration and Boston.

"There is no lesson or consequence from events in #Boston relevant to the immigration reform debate. Stop that idiocy."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters after the hearing that the country should not formulate its policy based on individual events.

"If we change the policies of this country every time something happens, Oklahoma City, 9/11, this, we're never going to do anything," he said. "We should think what are the best policies for the United States and use those."