By Alexander Bolton - 04/22/13 03:45 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to address national security vulnerabilities exposed by the Boston Marathon before moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
The two suspects in the bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 170 are ethnic Chechens who immigrated to the United States legally. Surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became a U.S. citizen.
“Before Congress moves forward, some important national security questions must be addressed,” Paul wrote to Reid.
“If we don't use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs,” he added.
Paul, who is weighing a presidential candidacy in 2016, said immigration reform should not move forward until Congress understands how the Boston bombing suspects were allowed to enter the country.
“We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system,” he wrote in his letter. “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”
Paul has called for the Senate Homeland Security panel to hold hearings to ensure “our current immigration system gives individuals from high-risk areas of the world heightened scrutiny.”
Supporters of immigration reform have expressed worries that opponents will use the Boston attack as a reason to delay their legislation.
But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the eight bipartisan co-sponsors of the Senate immigration reform bill, on Monday said that legislation should be changed if the Boston Marathon bombings have revealed "flaws in the system."
Like Paul, Rubio is thought to be a possible contender for the White House in 2016.
Tempers flared during Monday's hearing on the immigration measure when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Republicans of using the terrorist attack in Boston as an excuse not to move on immigration.
Schumer said colleagues with national security concerns should offer amendments during the committee markup or floor debate, but not try to delay the Judiciary Committee’s schedule.
“The chairman has a very open process, so if you have ways to improve the bill, offer an amendment when we start markup in May and let's vote on it,” said Schumer. “I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston, as an — I would say — excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who at an earlier hearing on Friday mentioned the Boston attacks, took offense to Schumer’s remarks.
“I never said that,” Grassley shouted.
Schumer quickly backed down.
“I don’t mean you, Mr. Grassley,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an outspoken critic of the immigration reform bill, jumped in to say he did not appreciate the “character” of Schumer’s questioning of the witnesses.
During the Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on the immigration legislation on Friday, Grassley mentioned the importance of being vigilant on security.
“We here are trying to understand why these events have occurred. It’s hard for us to understand that there are people in this world that want to do Americans harm,” Grassley said. “So, this hearing is an opportunity to refocus on the issues at hand, and the importance to remain vigilant and secure the homeland.”