CAPITOL HILL— An influential U.S. senator says the Boston bombing must not be used as an excuse to block or delay overhauling America’s immigration system. The emergence of a bipartisan immigration reform proposal has been overshadowed by the nation’s preoccupation with events in Boston.
Both Boston bombing suspects came to the United States legally from faraway lands, but some Republican lawmakers have cited their alleged actions as an example of what can happen if Congress carries immigration reform too far.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy says the Boston bombings should not be exploited for political purposes.
“Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of these two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hard-working people," said Leahy.
Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which met Monday to examine a bipartisan proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation. The bill also mandates tougher border security and seeks to crack down on employers who hire non-legal workers.
Leahy argued that, if anything, immigration reform is a way to improve U.S. public safety.
“The bill before us would serve to strengthen our national security by allowing us to focus our border security and enforcement efforts against those who do us harm," he said. "A nation as strong as ours can welcome the oppressed and persecuted without making compromises to our security.”
The committee's top Republican, Charles Grassley, objected to Leahy’s suggestion that the immigration plan's opponents are exploiting the Boston bombings. Grassley noted that many Democrats have linked tragedy to politics by citing recent mass shootings in the United States as a reason to support tougher gun restrictions. Grassley said what is needed is careful and reasoned debate on immigration policy.
“I think we are taking advantage of an opportunity, when once in 25 years we deal with immigration, to make sure that every base is covered," said Grassley.
The Republican senator noted that immigration reform undertaken in the 1980s failed to stem the flow of illegal border-crossers. He said lawmakers have a duty to prevent a repeat, necessitating careful consideration and full debate of the proposed reform bill.
“There are 92 other senators that must get their chance to improve this bill in a deliberative process," he said.
Polls show a majority of Americans favor an immigration system overhaul, including a path to citizenship for those living illegally in the country. Whether the bipartisan bill will win enough votes to pass both houses of a politically divided Congress remains to be seen.