Will Terror Attacks Set Back Immigration Reform?

| April 22 2013
John Walker

The bombings in Boston already have spilled over into the Senate debate on immigration reform, with the line drawn between those who think reform will help and those who think it will impede the ongoing war on terror. The conflict could delay or even derail the push for immigration reform.

The battle line was drawn as early as last Friday morning when the Senate Judiciary Committee convened the first hearing on the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Committee, was the first to raise questions about the bill in light of the events in Boston.

“It’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Grassley said. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of people who terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system. How can individuals evade authority and plan such attacks on our soil?”

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, a Committee member and leader of the Gang of Eight, was quick to respond.

“I’d like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston, or try to conflate those events with this legislation,” Schumer said. “In general we’re a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has fingerprints, photos, etc., to conduct background checks and no longer needs to look at needles in haystacks.”

The long-awaited hearing was anti-climactic. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, billed as the star witness, was unable to attend due to unfolding events in Boston. She will testify later.

We now know the status of the two brothers who allegedly staged the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week. The younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, gained U.S. citizenship last year. The older brother, Tamerlan, 26, held a green card. Both brothers came to the United States with their family a decade ago as refugees seeking asylum.

For the purposes of immigration reform, the focus will be on the older brother who spent six months in Russia last year and then returned to the United States. Also, in 2011, the FBI interviewed him following a request from the Russian government concerning his possible ties to Chechen radicals.

Beyond the investigation surrounding the Boston bombings, the terrorist attacks will spark debate about two key issues in the immigration reform bill: visa tracking and border security.

We know that 40 percent of illegal immigrants in the United States entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas. The current reform bill calls for an electronic system to track who enters and leaves the country to crack down on overstays.

Then there is the vexing question of border security. The bill calls for 100% surveillance of the border and 90% apprehension of illegal entries.

The track record on border security is dismal. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2011 that only about 44 percent, or 875 miles, of the 2,000-mile southern border was under operational control. Operational control means that persons crossing the border illegally are detected, deterred, or apprehended at the border or within 100 miles of the border.

As the immigration debate continues in the Senate and moves forward in the House, proponents of reform will say the Boston bombings are proof that the immigration system needs an overhaul. Opponents will claim that the bombings are evidence that reform should be approached with caution.

Regardless, the key to immigration reform is enforcement. Whether it is border security, visa tracking, or a host of other details, the rule of law is meaningless without the will of the Obama administration to take immigration laws seriously and apply the full force of law enforcement.

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