Sen. Charles E. Grassley on Friday linked the Senate’s debate over immigration reform to the revelation that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing may be Chechen immigrants to the U.S.
At a previously scheduled meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Iowa Republican noted that the committee’s immigration hearing came at a poignant time.
“We also appreciate the opportunity to talk about immigration. Particularly in light of all that’s happening in Massachusetts right now and over the last week,” said Grassley, who is the panel’s ranking member.
“We are here trying to understand why these events have occurred,” Grassley said. “It’s hard to understand that there are people in this world that want to do Americans harm, so this hearing is an opportunity to refocus on the issues at hand and the importance of remaining vigilant and secure in our homeland.”
After the hearing, Grassley noted the questions about the U.S. immigration system that cropped up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. “You’re right back to what we discovered on 9/11. How did 19 people get in here to kill 3,000 people?” Grassley said. “So I think it is good and its a reminder that we’ve got to do better than what we’ve done. They were evidently here legally.”
News reports have indicated that the suspects in the Boston bombings — one of whom was killed by police overnight — originally hail from the Chechnya region of Russia. That predominantly Muslim region has been the site of much unrest and civil war as separatists fight for independence from Russia.
Even before Grassley spoke, Senate “gang of eight” member John McCain seemed acutely aware that some would seek to tie the Boston terrorists to the immigration overhaul effort.
“I would make an argument for immigration reform, so that we can track people better who come into this country and track people who leave this country,” the Arizona Republican told Charlie Rose on CBS.
At the hearing, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., cautioned Grassley and others against an effort to “conflate” the situation still unfolding in Massachusetts with the legislation from the eight senators.
“In general, we’re a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here — has their fingerprints, photos, etc., has conducted background checks and no longer needs to look at needles through haystacks,” Schumer said. He stressed that the bill would give the government a better sense of who is in the country, which would make the nation “better off.”
Schumer also noted that oversight of asylum programs has already improved in recent years.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he is not sure if the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing would affect the legislation.
“There is always that possibility .” Lee said after hearing. “One way or another this is an issue that has pre-dated the tragedy of this week and will still be here long after this week. The bottom line us I’m not sure.”
Asked if he would caution senators not to link the two, Lee said he generally doesn’t “take to lecturing my colleagues on how to message and what to message; that’s up to them.”
Meanwhile, the ongoing manhunt in Boston for one of the suspects forced Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to cancel her scheduled immigration testimony before the panel.
“As you know, there is a great deal going on in Massachusetts,” Leahy said. “I hope everybody can well understand why Secretary Napolitano will not be here. We will reschedule her testimony.”
Leahy said that the senators “are proud of how law enforcement is law enforcement has responded.”
Grassley also said her absence was understandable.
“On this side . . . we understand why the secretary can’t be here,” Grassley said. “ And we feel she is doing exactly what she should be doing and we will have an opportunity when things settle down to question her.”