WASHINGTON — The Boston Marathon bombings cast a shadow yesterday 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 U.S. illegally. And authors of a sweeping new immigration bill, which got its first hearing yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that their legislation would improve U.S. 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 immigration system and the changes proposed in the new bill. There were concerns among supporters of the legislation that, even if it turns out that the bombing suspects did not violate U.S. immigration laws, the events could inflame anti-immigrant sentiment just as Congress confronts the already formidable task of getting a far-reaching immigration bill through the House and Senate and to the president’s desk.
“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 Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, said in his opening statement at yesterday’s hearing. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the United States? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill?”
Others went further.
“It’s too bad suspect No. 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio now,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote on her Twitter account, after one of the suspects was killed in a firefight. Rubio, a Florida Republican, is another of the principal Senate authors of the legislation.