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.

The Lowell Sun & Robin Young/AP
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.

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.

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?"

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, an author of the bill, urged that people “not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston or try to conflate those events with this legislation."

Lloyd Green, who worked on the George H. W. Bush campaign and in the Department of Justice from 1990 to 1992, wrote Friday in The Daily Beast:

“If immigration reform is to become law, then Congress and President Obama must first address the fact that not everyone who comes to America likes us. Indeed, some immigrants want to kill us.

“As the horror of the past week reminds us, America is not immune from terror on its own soil. After 9/11, the country took serious measures to curb the importation of terror and to scrutinize more carefully who is granted a visa to play, work, and study. But it needs to do more.”

But even some critics of the immigration reform bill object to those who would tie it, at this point, to the Boston situation. “Hijacking tragedy to drive public policy debate is just wrong,” says James Jay Carafano, a foreign and defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, who says he has a long list of issues with the bill. 

After 9/11, he says, a lot of the security measures were knee-jerk reactions that didn’t really help. And while more information may emerge that creates legitimate debate about security or immigration, he says, not enough is known yet, and terrorists are such a tiny percentage of any group that “anybody that wants to revamp any policy … based on the specific acts of a handful of individuals, that’s just stupid.”

If it’s true that the family came here as refugees at least 10 years ago, Ms. Meissner says, people should be questioning what has happened in the suspects’ lives since then, seeing the situation as more parallel with home-grown terrorism rather than an immigration issue.

The security measures associated with immigration have increased dramatically since 9/11, Meissner says. Concerns about the possibility that one or both of the suspects became radicalized through Chechen connections would be a matter for investigation by intelligence agencies, she says, rather than something that could have been predicted when they arrived as children.

Conservative Ann Coulter jumped in by tweeting Friday: “It’s too bad Suspect #1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now.”

A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of  Florida, a member of the so-called Gang of Eight negotiating immigration reform, said in an e-mail to the Monitor Friday: "There are legitimate policy questions to ask and answer about what role our immigration system played, if any, in what happened.

“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 terrorists responsible for the attacks in Boston with the millions of decent, law-abiding immigrants currently living in the US and those hoping to immigrate here in the future."

Associated Press material was used in this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to