Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that the immigration reform debate should be halted until Congress first understands what went wrong in Boston, where two brothers who came to the U.S. legally under the asylum program have been accused of the deadly bombings at last week’s marathon.
The Kentucky Republican had given the immigration issue a big boost when he said earlier this year he supported taking action. But in light of last week’s bombings, Mr. Paul said things have changed.
“The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system. If we don’t use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs,” he said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system.”
Boston’s effects on the immigration debate have become hotly debated since it became clear the two men suspected in the bombings were foreigners who gained entry with their family through the asylum system.
The Senate’s senior Democrat said Monday that calls to slow down immigration are “cruel.”
“Last week opponents of comprehensive immigration reform began to exploit the Boston Marathon’s bombing,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and president pro tempore of the upper chamber.
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Mr. Leahy said it was unfair to hold the hopes of illegal immigrants hostage to “the heinous acts of these two last week.”
“Let no one be so cruel,” he said.
But Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that was an unfair criticism, particularly coming from Mr. Leahy, who in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting rampage last year proposed new gun controls.
“When you proposed gun legislation I didn’t accuse you of using the [Newtown] killings as an excuse,” Mr. Grassley said. “I think we’re taking an advantage of an opportunity when once in 25 years we deal with immigration, to make sure that every base is covered.”
Mr. Paul’s voice adds even more heft to the push for a go-slow approach.
In his letter to Mr. Reid, he laid out a long series of questions he said must be answered before Congress proceeds, including the status of the entry-exit system, student visas and the refugee system.
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While the Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the new immigration bill, Mr. Paul said the Senate Homeland Security Committee should also hold hearings to examine exactly what went wrong in Boston.