The uncle of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing said Friday that they were born in Kyrgyzstan and came to the U.S. in 2003 on claims of asylum — news that’s already beginning to reverberate in the immigration debate just beginning on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said lawmakers should hit the brake on any immigration bill until the full details can be learned about the bombings.
“I can’t imagine the Senate moving quickly on this and trying to pass a bill out of the Senate before we get to the bottom of the Boston Marathon bombers. The American people just won’t stand for that,” Mr. King told The Washington Times.
Police in Boston have identified two suspects: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Ruslan Tsarni, the Montgomery Village, Md., man who said he is the two suspects’ uncle, told reporters Friday morning that they were born in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. He said the only motives he could think of for the nephews’ action was that they were “losers” who had trouble assimilating into American life since arriving a decade ago.
The older brother was killed in a firefight with police overnight, while the younger brother is on the loose, and officials have ordered much of the Boston area to be on lockdown.
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Government records indicate there were 44 applications for asylum from Kyrgyzstan nationals in 2003, and 15 cases approved, totaling 22 persons.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who helped write a massive new immigration overhaul bill introduced this week, urged his colleagues not to “conflate” the Boston attack with their efforts to legalize illegal immigrants.
Presaging the news about the two suspects’ status, he told fellow senators that the U.S. asylum and refugee programs have been “significantly strengthened” in the last five years.
“We are much more careful about screening people and determining who should and should not be coming into the country,” he said. “And if there are any changes that our homeland security experts tell us need to be made, I’m committed to making them as chairman of the immigration subcommittee.”
But his plea to separate the bombing from immigration is unlikely to be heeded.
Minutes before he spoke at a hearing called to examine his immigration bill, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the bombings will force the country to see what changes need to be made.
“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” the Iowa Republican said. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”
The immigration bill Mr. Schumer and seven other colleagues have written would legalize immigrants and expand avenues for overall legal immigration — though it would eliminate the diversity visa lottery and cut the ties used to bring in siblings of immigrants.
Mr. Schumer said that will actually enhance safety, since it will mean police no longer have to worry about illegal immigrants who do not have serious criminal records but who remain in the shadows.
“In general, we are a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was slated to testify at the hearing about the immigration bill, but she canceled because of the unfolding events in Boston.
Instead, she was taking part by remote video connection in a briefing with President Obama, who was in the White House Situation Room.
The U.S. asylum and refugee programs are meant to be the humanitarian side of American immigration policy. Refugees are those who apply abroad, while asylum is granted to those who apply from within the U.S.
In the early 1990s, the country accepted more than 100,000 refugees. That number dipped to fewer than 25,000 early last decade, and stood at 56,384 in 2011.
Meanwhile, asylum was granted to nearly 25,000 applicants — down from a peak of about 40,000 a decade ago.
Mr. King said that he would have to wait for more details to see exactly what the two suspects’ status was, but he said he has long had concerns about the asylum program.
World events have affected the immigration debate before. In 2002 Congress was poised to pass a mini-amnesty, but it fell victim to concerns stemming from the Sept. 11 bombing just months earlier.