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Boston bombings affect immigration reform debate

WASHINGTON -- The Boston Marathon bombings cast a shadow Friday over the start of debate on legislation to remake the U.S. immigration system, as some Republicans argued that the role of two immigrant suspects raised questions about gaps in the system.

There was no suggestion that the two suspects, brothers who had lived in Dagestan, neighboring Chechnya in southern Russia, had entered the United States illegally.

And authors of a sweeping new immigration bill, which was getting its first hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that their legislation would improve U.S. national security because the estimated 11 million people now living here illegally would have to come forward and undergo background checks.

Still, a number of Republicans seized on the events in Boston to raise questions about the existing immigration system and the changes proposed in the new bill.

"Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee's senior Republican, said in his opening statement at Friday's hearing.

Supporters of the legislation said, however, that it would strengthen security.

"I'd like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston or try to conflate those events with this legislation," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after Grassley spoke.

"In general, we're a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here" and has photos and background checks, Schumer added -- steps that would be taken in regard to people living here illegally under the legislation Schumer sponsored with seven other senators.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina released a statement decrying efforts to use the Boston events to stop the immigration push.

"Some have already suggested that the circumstances of this terrible tragedy are justification for delaying or stopping entirely the effort for comprehensive immigration reform. In fact the opposite is true."

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