By Mike Lillis
The Senate's immigration reform package would make the country safer from attacks on home soil, a leading author of the bill said this week.
With Americans still reeling in the aftermath of Monday's Boston Marathon bombings, some Capitol Hill lawmakers are warning that the tragedy should make Congress even more wary of attempts to overhaul the immigration system.
But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the so-called "Gang of Eight" that negotiated the sweeping proposal, said Friday that their package would help prevent attacks on the homeland.
"Our bill, while certainly it gives a path to citizenship and legalizes people right away, we will know the identities of everybody. And that makes the country safer," Schumer said in an interview with Univision set to air Sunday. "So I think our bill would actually – it's too early to tie it to any specific incident – but overall, it'll make the country a lot safer."
Law enforcement officials say the chief suspects in the Boston bombings are ethnic Chechens who have been living in the United States for years. One suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police in the early hours of Friday morning. His brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured outside Boston Friday night after an intense manhunt that lasted nearly 24 hours and shut down much of Greater Boston.
Schumer and the other members of the Gang of Eight – four Democrats and four Republicans – unveiled a proposal this week to revamp the nation's immigration system after months of delicate, closed-door talks. The issue has divided Washington politicians for many years, but the senators are hoping their compromise package will be more successful by striking the right balance between strengthening border security, favored by conservative Republicans, and granting new immigrant protections, urged by liberal Democrats.
Still, in the first Senate hearing on the issue, conducted Friday in the Judiciary Committee, there were clear signs that the bill has a tough road ahead. And Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), senior Republican on the panel, wondered aloud if holes in the immigration system opened the door for the Boston bombers to pull off their attacks.
"Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system," Grassley said in his opening statement of a Judiciary hearing on reform. "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?" Grassley asked. "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?"
Schumer said he's confident there's enough support for immigration reform this year – including endorsements from the strange bedfellows of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO – that the Boston tragedy won't quash the effort.
"So many groups are behind us. I don't think that this incident would derail the immigration bill," he told Univision.