Senators argue over whether Boston bombing should influence immigration reform

Chris Moody

A discussion over whether the deadly bombings in Boston, allegedly by two brothers who emigrated from Eastern Europe, should influence the immigration reform debate led to a shouting match Monday among senators working on the proposal.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the proposed immigration bill, New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer suggested that some were using last week's bombing at the Boston Marathon as "an excuse" to delay the bill. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley had evoked the bombing during a discussion about the legislation at a separate hearing on Friday.

"The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform," Schumer said during the hearing. "That's what every poll says."

Sitting to his right on the panel, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions interrupted Schumer midsentence to ask if he could make a counterpoint.

"Will the senator yield?" Sessions asked.

"No, I will not," Schumer responded.

"Will the senator yield?" Sessions asked again.

"Nope. Nope," Schumer said, shaking his head, and went on.

"And they will not be satisfied with calls for delays or impediments toward the bill," Schumer said. "I would say to my colleagues—and I understand their views are heartfelt—the chairman has a very open process, so if you have ways to improve the bill, offer an amendment when we start mark-up in May and let's vote on it. I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened in the terrible tragedy in Boston as, I would say, an excuse for delaying a bill or delaying it for many months or years."

Schumer was then interrupted again, this time by Grassley, the top Republican on the committee.

"I never said that!" Grassley boomed into his microphone.

"I didn't say you did," Schumer said.

"I never said that!" Grassley repeated.

"I didn't say you did, sir," Schumer said.

"I didn't say anything about delaying the bill," Grassley said with his finger pointing toward Schumer.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pounded his gavel and brought the panel back to order. At the beginning of the hearing, Leahy had accused opponents of the bill of trying to take advantage of the attacks to advance their agenda.

"Late last week, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing. I urge restraint in that regard," Leahy said, adding later: "Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people."

Schumer insisted that he wasn't referring to anyone on the Senate committee.

Brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are believed to have detonated two shrapnel packed bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last Monday. The explosions killed three people and injured 180.

Tamerlan was killed Friday in a firefight with police. Dzohkhar was captured alive and has been charged in federal court with using a weapon of mass destruction.

The two men were born in Kyrgyzstan and emigrated legally to the U.S.

On Friday, Grassley said the attacks should draw attention to problems in the U.S. immigration system.

“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Grassley said. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”

Since then, a handful of Republican lawmakers, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is working to establish himself as a liaison between the immigration reform advocates and conservatives, have called for delaying the bill until more details from the bombing came to light.

Later on Monday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the lead Republicans who helped craft the legislation with a bipartisan group of four Republicans and four Democrats, said the final immigration bill should address any shortcomings in current law that may have led to the bombing.

“I disagree with those who say that the terrorist attack in Boston has no bearing on the immigration debate. Any immigration reform we pursue should make our country safer and more secure," Rubio said in a statement. "If there are flaws in our immigration system that were exposed by the attack in Boston, any immigration reform passed by Congress this year should address those flaws. Congress needs time to conduct more hearings and investigate how our immigration and national security systems could be improved going forward."