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Could Boston bombings derail immigration push?

Updated April 21, 2:06 p.m.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Updated April 21, 2:06 p.m.

Conservative lawmakers and commentators are seizing on the Boston bombings—allegedly perpetrated by immigrant brothers from Central Asia—as another reason to go slow on immigration reform.

On Sunday, Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats said immigration reform should be put on hold.“We have a broken system, it needs to be reformed,” Coats said on ABC’s  This Week. “But I’m afraid we’ll rush to some judgments relative to immigration and how it’s processed. So let’s do it in a rational way rather than an emotional way.”

As soon as the suspects' identities were known Iowa's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley was calling for stricter immigration rules.

"Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said at a Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform Friday.  "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."

But Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the committee chair, rejected that notion. "If we change the policies in this country every time something happens—whether it's Oklahoma City, 9/11, this—then we're never going to do anything," he told reporters after the hearing. "We should think about where the best policies are for the United States and use those."

Sen. Marco Rubio, the lawmaker perhaps most closely associated with the immigration push, took a similar stance. “The situation in Boston is still developing and it’s too soon to jump to conclusions, let not use the tragedy to make political points,” Rubio’s spokesman told The Washington Post in a statement.

And Frank Sharry of America's Voice, a pro-reform group, said in a statement: "It's shameful that some on the far right are politicizing and demagoguing this issue. It's shameful, but not very surprising.  Those exploiting this tragedy in hopes of derailing immigration reform were opponents of reform long before this week."

The Tsarnaev brothers are said by authorities to be of Chechen origins. Both were born in Kyrgyzstan, NBC News reports. According to their uncle, the family moved to the U.S. from Kyrgyzstan in 2003. According to travel documents obtained by NBC News New York, Tamerlan Tsranaev, 26, flew to the US. in 2002 with his family and applied for asylum. The family was granted legal permanent residence in 2007, and Dzhorkhar Tsarnaev became a naturalized citizen in September 2012.

Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police early Friday morning. His 19-year-old brother was captured late Friday and remained in serious condition at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.

Grassley isn’t the only conservative to link the bombings to immigration. Earlier this week, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, responding to reports that police were pursuing a Saudi national as a “person of interest,” told National Review: "Some of the speculation that has come out is that, yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa. If that's the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture."

And Ann Coulter tweeted Friday: “It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now.”

Indeed, the other hot-button issue to have come before Congress lately—guns—also has been dragged into the debate. “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” Nate Bell, a Republican state representative in Arkansas, tweeted. Bell later apologized for "poor timing."

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham joined Rubio and Leahy in pushing back against Grassley et al. “In the wake of this week’s terrorist attack in Boston, some have already suggested that the circumstances of this terrible tragedy are justification for delaying or stopping entirely the effort for comprehensive immigration reform," the Arizona and South Carolina Republicans said in a statement. "In fact the opposite is true: Immigration reform will strengthen our nation’s security by helping us identify exactly who has entered our country and who has left – a basic function of government that our broken immigration system is incapable of accomplishing today. The status quo is unacceptable."