This week, U.S. lawmakers will weigh in on a bipartisan proposal to overhaul America’s oft-criticized immigration system and resolve the status of an estimated 11 million people who entered the country illegally or overstayed visas. The bill’s unveiling late last week was overshadowed by fast-moving events surrounding the Boston bombing.
With the eyes of the nation fixed on Boston, major legislative developments took a back seat last week. A push to reform America’s gun laws hit a roadblock in the Senate, and Democratic and Republican senators - the so-called Gang of Eight - presented a long-awaited immigration reform proposal.
Republican Marco Rubio said, “First and foremost, it is about modernizing our legal immigration system. It is about helping to attract the world’s best and brightest talent, and to keep the world’s best and brightest talent.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, says the status quo is unacceptable. “The dysfunction of the system affects all of us. Now is our time to fix it," he said.
The bill sets forth a long and arduous path for the undocumented to attain U.S. citizenship. That provision amounts to amnesty that will attract more illegal border-crossers, according to critics such as Republican Congressman Lou Barletta.
“We have our immigration laws for two reasons. One, to protect our national security. And two, to protect American jobs," he said.
The national security component of the immigration debate could become a focal point in the aftermath of the Boston bombing. Both suspects came to the United States legally from abroad.
While their motives have not been definitively ascertained, they are already being mentioned as a cautionary tale by skeptics of immigration reform, including Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.
“How can individuals evade authority and plan such attacks on our soil,?" he asked. How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the United States? 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?”
Gang of Eight senators are predicting long and fierce debate on immigration reform. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer:
“There will be perils we cannot even anticipate, but we start off with optimism, because this bipartisan agreement gives us a sturdy ship to ride out the stormy seas ahead," he said.
More about the Boston bombing could be learned if the surviving suspect recovers from wounds sustained in a gun battle with police and shares information with interrogators. Meanwhile, the debate on immigration reform is moving forward at the Capitol.