Boston Marathon case influences immigration talks

A police cruiser drives by as people react

A police cruiser drives by as people react to news of the arrest of one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in Boston. (April 19, 2013) (Credit: AP)

The revelation that two immigrants living legally in the United States were the suspects behind the Boston Marathon bombings has become fodder in the national debate over an immigration bill, as reform skeptics cautioned against moving too fast in granting legal status to millions of immigrants.

Echoing those concerns, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said during a morning interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" that reform "has national security implications" and should be put on hold.

"We have a broken system," he said. "It needs to be reformed. But I'm afraid we'll rush to some judgments."

A chorus of immigration reform proponents and other members of Congress rose against such doubts, saying fixing a broken system should make the country safer.

"The immigration law that we've put together is much tougher on these things, and would be an improvement," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the leaders in crafting the reform bill. "We make sure the 11 million people who are here and no one has any track of them have to register with the government. We tighten up the exit-entry system."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has emphasized the need for enforcement, said the Boston attacks shouldn't affect "the overall goal" of reform.

"What we should do is to see, as far as immigrants from countries with a terrorist background, what extra vetting we should do," he said.

The questions about reform came before the nation learned the names, and Chechen roots, of brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, suspects in the April 15 Boston explosions and the April 19 shootout with law enforcement.

A bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators last week unveiled a bill that would enhance border security, track new immigrants and impose employment verification checks, while granting "registered" status to immigrants who crossed the border illegally or overstayed visas.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) cautioned Friday against moving too fast, saying that "given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system."

Ira Mehlman, of the pro-enforcement Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., which opposes the bill, said the Boston case proves "we do have an overloaded system and the institutions set up to govern it can't handle the load right now."

Frank Sharry, director of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice, in Washington, D.C., characterized the link to Boston as "shameless demagoguery."

Patrick Young, of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, said stopping reform doesn't make sense.

"I don't quite see why the argument would be 'Let's keep those immigrants in the shadows so we can be safer,' " he said.

With Paul LaRocco

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