After Boston, Immigration Reformers Shift Tactics

Responding to criticism, Durbin says amnesty would make America safer

Sen. Dick Durbin / AP

The Senate architects of a bipartisan immigration reform that would put 11 to 12 million illegal aliens on the path to U.S. citizenship shifted tactics on Sunday, arguing in light of the Boston Marathon bombing that revamping American immigration laws would make the homeland more secure.

The new rhetorical emphasis was a shift from arguments made during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Friday in which supporters of the deal brokered by the so-called "Gang of Eight" Republicans and Democrats, including possible 2016 presidential aspirant Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fl.), said it would contribute to economic growth.

That argument was overshadowed when Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) suggested the immigration status and national origin of the two suspects in the Boston bombing raised questions over the timing of immigration reform.

"Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," Grassley said in a prepared statement. "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. 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?"

Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), the majority whip and a member of the Gang of Eight, said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday that passage of the deal would not jeopardize American security.

"Immigration reform will make us safer," Sen. Durbin said, citing the border security provisions of the bill and suggesting that granting legal status to current illegal immigrants would provide government authorities a better sense of who exactly is in the country.

Both Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died at age 26 of gunshot wounds sustained during a battle with law enforcement Thursday evening, and his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is in serious but stable condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston after his apprehension late Friday, were in the United States legally.

The ethnic Chechens immigrated to the United States with their family nearly a decade ago. Tamerlan, who spent six months somewhere in Russia in 2012, was married to an American with whom he had a three-year-old son.

Dzhokhar became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America on September 11, 2012, some seven months before he assisted his brother in a plot to explode pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon, killing three people, including an eight-year-old boy, and maiming 170.

The Tsarnaev brothers are also said to have murdered a security officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hours after their images were revealed to the world by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Thursday afternoon. They then carjacked an innocent bystander and critically wounded a Boston transit officer in the gunfight later that evening during which more than 200 rounds of ammunition were exchanged.

A study released this month by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, found significant differences in patriotic attitudes between native-born Americans and foreign-born immigrants to this country.

"We have sent immigrants the wrong message on assimilation," the report states. "It is our fault, not theirs, that this gap exists."

The study, "America's Patriotic Immigration System is Broken," was authored by John Fonte, the director of Hudson Institute's Center for American Common Culture, and Althea Nagai of Nagai Lerner Consulting.

The Judiciary Committee planned for a second hearing on the immigration deal Monday morning. It could not be learned when Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano would testify before the committee.

Napolitano had been scheduled to testify last Friday but cancelled her appearance due to the ongoing investigation into the first successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

A report in Sunday's New York Times found a range of opinions among residents of Wayne, Pa., on the topic of immigration and security.

"I’m a little more of an extremist now after what happened in Boston," 41-year-old stockbroker Greg Ricker told the paper. "I think we should just stop letting people in."