The Boston Bombings Could Be Disastrous For Immigration Reform


The revelation that the two suspects in the Boston bombings may be immigrants with ties to Chechnya is unlikely to help efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform as lawmakers debate new legislation in the coming weeks.


In the wake of Monday's attacks, opponents of immigration have sought to tie the issue to the bombings, arguing that any plans to legalize undocumented workers and overhaul the visa system should be delayed until more information is known about the suspects.

“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,” conservative Rep. Steve King, a major immigration reform foe, told the National Review Online this week. “If that’s the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture.”

On Friday, the bombings were front and center at the Senate's first immigration hearing, as Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley argued that the attacks provide an opportunity to refocus the immigration debate around national security issues.

“We are here trying to understand why these events have occurred,” said Grassley, the ranking GOP member on the Judiciary Committee. “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.”


"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," Grassley said.

"How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil? How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? 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 before us?"

Acutely aware that the attacks could derail any immigration reform efforts, members of the Gang of Eight and several Democratic representatives have urged caution in linking the Boston attacks to immigration.

"There are legitimate policy questions to ask and answer about what role our immigration system played, if any, in what happened," Alex Conant, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement to Business Insider.

"Regardless of the circumstances in Boston, immigration reform that strengthens our borders and gives us a better accounting of who is in our country and why will improve our national security. Americans will reject any attempt to tie the losers responsible for the attacks in Boston with the millions of law-abiding immigrants currently living in the US and those hoping to immigrate here in the future."


At the Senate hearing Friday, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, another architect of the immigration bill, also stressed the need for lawmakers to avoid letting the attacks cloud their judgement of the legislation.

"I'd like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding events in Boston or conflate those events with this legislation," Schumer said.

"In general, we're a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etcetera, conducted background checks," he continued. "Two days ago, as you may recall, there was widespread erroneous reports of arrests being made. This just emphasizes how important it is to allow the actual facts to come out before jumping to any conclusions."

So far, the immigration status of the two Boston bombing suspects is still unclear. The brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are believed to be of Chechen descent, and to have immigrated to the U.S. from Kazakhstan around 2003. Dzhokhar is believed to have been born in Kyrgyzstan, which is not unusual for Chechens displaced by war in Russia's Caucusus region.

Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with Boston police Thursday night. A manhunt is currently underway for Dzhokhar.


In an interview with reporters Friday, the brothers' uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said that the brothers came to the U.S. under asylum, although that has not been confirmed. If true, however, their emigration would not have been affected by any of the immigration reform measures currently being considered in Congress.

Still, the immigration status of the Tsarnaev brothers is unlikely to matter much to opponents of immigration reform. Already, conservatives are slamming the Gang of Eight — and Rubio in particular — over the issue.

Here's a tweet from conservative firebrand Ann Coulter this morning: