By Mike Lillis
The Boston Marathon tragedy is a reason for Congress to move faster – not slower – to overhaul the nation's immigration system, according to two co-authors of a Senate reform package.
Some conservatives on Capitol Hill have suggested Monday's deadly bombings – allegedly orchestrated by a pair of young immigrants from Russia's volatile Caucasus region – should cause lawmakers to move more deliberately in their approach to immigration reform this year.
"Now is the time to bring all of the 11 million [undocumented immigrants] out of the shadows and find out who they are. Most of them are here to work, but we may find some terrorists in our midst," Graham said in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "What happened in Boston … should urge us to act quicker, not slower, when it comes to getting the 11 million identified."
Schumer echoed that message and accused those urging a slower process of using the Boston tragedy as "an excuse" to kill the bill.
"Certainly, keeping the status quo is not a very good argument, given what happened [in Boston]," Schumer told CNN's Candy Crowley.
"There are some – some on the hard right, some otherwise – who opposed our immigration bill from the get-go and they're using this as an excuse. We are not going to let them do that," Schumer added. "If they have a reason – a suggestion – as to how to change it [the bill] based on what happened in Boston, we'll certainly be open to it. But we're not going to let them use what happened in Boston as an excuse because our law toughens things up."
Schumer, Graham and the other members of the so-called "Gang of Eight" unveiled their proposal this week to revamp the nation's immigration system after months of private negotiations on the delicate topic. Congress has tried on several occasions over the last 20 years to tackle the issue, but it's proved too thorny to pass.
The Gang of Eight is hoping their compromise package will be more appealing, by striking the right balance between stronger border security and new immigrant protections.
They have a tough road ahead.
Two powerful Republicans in the upper chamber – Sens. Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) – were quick to suggest the Boston tragedy should cause Congress to approach the immigration overhaul much more warily.
"How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?" Grassley, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary panel, asked Friday during an immigration hearing. "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?"
Sessions piled on the same day, rejecting the notion that the Gang of Eight bill will make the country safer.
"The protestations of the sponsors of this bill, that we’re going to be a lot safer if the new bill is passed, I think is incorrect," Sessions told Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host. "The 9/11 Commission, in their analysis of what should be done, back then, they said we needed a biometric visa exit/entry system. This legislation said that was going to happen initially, but now we hear it’s not going to be biometric. It’s not going to cover land entries and exits. And therefore, it’s not, the experts have told us, that’s not going to be effective."
Graham on Sunday noted that opponents of the package will have numerous opportunities to amend it, both in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. He urged lawmakers not to slow the process.
"I've been dealing with this for almost eight years now, and we have got to stop talking about our broken immigration [system] and fix it," Graham told CNN. "We have a very good solution. It can be amended, it can be debated, you can vote against it or for it. But this [tragedy] is no excuse to stop immigration reform. … We need to move on."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to have a second hearing on the bipartisan immigration package on Monday.