- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2013

The authors of the Senate immigration bill are mounting a campaign to try to make sure the Boston Marathon bombings last week don’t derail their push to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, saying the problems lie more with the FBI than with legal immigration.

In the wake of the revelation that the two men suspected of the bombings were immigrants, some on Capitol Hill said it should be a reason to slow down enactment of an immigration reform bill.

But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and one of eight senators who wrote the immigration legislation, said they won’t accept a delay.

“There are some, some on the hard right, some otherwise, who opposed our immigration bill from the get-go, and they’re using this as an excuse. We are not going to let them do that,” Mr. Schumer said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We’re not going to let them use what happened in Boston as an excuse because our law toughens things up.”

At stake is a fundamental disagreement over whether legalizing illegal immigrants and allowing more legal immigration makes the U.S. safer or endangers it.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and another co-author of the bill, said legalizing the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants will help weed out people with terrorist intentions and let law enforcement focus on real threats.

SEE ALSO: Boston bombing drama hits immigration debate

“I think now is the time to bring all the 11 million out of the shadows and find out who they are. Most of them are here to work, but we may find some terrorists in our midst who have been hiding in the shadows,” Mr. Graham said.

He said his immediate questions about the bombings aren’t for immigration officials but for the FBI, which reportedly interviewed one of the suspects two years ago to inquire about potential ties to terrorism.

But other lawmakers have said the government needs to fully understand the failures of the Boston bombings case before enacting an immigration bill that could weaken national security.

“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Friday.

He spoke at a hearing that was called to begin debate on the immigration bill. That legislation would grant legal status to illegal immigrants, but would withhold a full pathway to citizenship until the Homeland Security Department took steps to bolster border security and better track people entering and leaving the U.S.

The two men suspected in the bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a shootout with police, and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was arrested, were admitted as minors to the U.S. on grants of asylum.

The Homeland Security Department was considering the elder brother’s application for citizenship, though officials reportedly delayed the process because they were looking into why the FBI interviewed him in 2011.

The immigration bill doesn’t focus on the asylum system, but does make some tweaks such as allowing applicants extra time to meet deadlines and allowing them to petition to have their cases reheard.

Mr. Schumer said the asylum program already has been tightened and that if the Tsarnaevs applied now, they might not have been allowed into the country.

Indeed, asylum grants have dipped from a peak of about 40,000 a year a decade ago to about 25,000 applications in 2011.

But Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, told The Washington Times that he still has questions about the asylum system and said the Senate should slow down the push for immigration.

“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 said.

World events have affected other immigration debates. In 2002, Congress was poised to pass a mini-amnesty, but it fell victim to concerns stemming from the Sept. 11 bombing months earlier. President George W. Bush’s hopes for a broader legalization also petered out.

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