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Immigration reform and Boston bombing: why some make a connection

Should the Boston bombing be part of the debate on immigration reform? Some say the proposal would make the US more vulnerable, but others say the discussion should not be so narrow.

By Staff writer / April 19, 2013

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The ethnic Chechen brothers lived in Dagestan, which borders the Chechnya region in southern Russia. They lived near Boston and had been in the US for about a decade, one of their uncles reported said.

The Lowell Sun & Robin Young/AP

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A new level of complexity emerged in the already tricky politics of immigration reform Friday, as reports about the immigration and citizenship status of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects trickled out from unofficial sources.

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Even as the Senate began hearings on a bipartisan proposal for immigration reform, and with a manhunt for the surviving immigrant brother suspected in the attack bringing Boston to a standstill, critics of the proposal suggested it would make the United States more vulnerable to those who would do it harm.

While security is certainly a legitimate topic for discussion, says Doris Meissner a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington and a former commissioner of the INS, it would be unfortunate if the Boston situation narrowed the immigration debate to security alone.

“A lot of people will use it to frustrate the immigration reform debate … which, prior to Boston, had finally broadened to be a much bigger discussion,” including labor market and workforce issues, she says.

Early in the day, an uncle of the suspects said they had come here with their parents as refugees from the Chechen conflict about 10 years ago.

CNN and Judicial Watch both reported on Friday afternoon, from unnamed sources, that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect still at large, was sworn in as a United States citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, and that his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was a legal permanent resident.

Speculation mounted that the young men possibly could have become radicalized Muslims.

The Associated Press reported that government officials said on condition of anonymity that Tamerlan traveled to Russia last year and returned to the US six months later.

Immigration officials would not comment to the Monitor on the immigration or citizenship status of the suspects because of the ongoing investigation.

But even before some of these details were reported, the sense that the suspects weren’t from the US originally cropped up Friday morning in discussions of immigration reform ­– everywhere from Twitter to Capitol Hill.

"Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa Friday morning as the Senate Judiciary Committee convened the first hearing on bipartisan legislation to remake the US immigration system.

"How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the United States?” he said in his opening statement. “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?"

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