Some borough advocates of federal immigration reform are concerned that a new bipartisan measure to overhaul the current system will be derailed by the Boston Marathon bombings, allegedly carried out by two young men who immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan.
Ana Maria Archila, co-director of Make the Road New York, an organization that advocates for Latino and working-class communities and has an office in Jackson Heights, said she is worried some in Congress who are opposed to the immigration bill will try to capitalize on the bombings for their own political ends.
“I have concerns that people on the anti-immigration side will try to use Boston to derail immigration reform,” she said. “They will use whatever they can to prevent that from happening.”
She said she agreed with the argument made by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that immigration reform would help to bring immigrants out of the shadows and better integrate them into the fabric of American society.
“Immigration reform will only help create more safety and security,” she said.
Steven Choi, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, an advocacy group for the Korean-American community, said he thinks a delay on a vote would be nonsensical, pointing out that the nation has been debating immigration reform for 20 years and everyone agrees it is a broken system.
He also said the Boston Marathon bombing suspects’ immigrant status is not relevant to the current debate.
The two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, who were brothers, were ethnic Chechens. Tamarlan Tsarnaev, 26, was a legal resident and died in a shootout with police last week. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, a naturalized citizen, was arrested last week.
“Calls for delay are really disingenuous,” Choi said, adding that they “are really calls to block it and we have to recognize that.”
But U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said he thought there was too much political will on the Republican side to thwart reform.
“In past elections, especially on the Republican side, we’ve seen that if we don’t do immigration reform in a hurry, we can lose out on a particular vote, and some for a long period of time,” he said.
“I think that the individuals who were moving forward on the Senate side are not going to be deterred, and in the House both sides are talking among one another,” he added. “You may have someone come up with an amendment or two, but not one that will substantially change the bill.”
Schumer is one of eight senators who drafted bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. The bill provides a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, but it also requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to invest in strengthening border security before illegal immigrants would be allowed to apply for a green card.
Other measures in the bill would also make another bombing like the one in Boston less likely, a spokeswoman with Schumer’s office said. For instance, the bill would mandate background checks for illegal immigrants in order to receive Registered Provisional Immigrant status, and as part of that process photos and other vital information would be collected and put into the legal system.
It also requires a border entry-exit system to be up and running that relies on swiping an official card, similar to a passport, instead of typing a name into an airline’s manifest.
Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s name was apparently misspelled on a passenger manifest when he went to Russia in 2012, and thus the FBI was not automatically made aware of his movements.
But there have been some calls among Republicans to delay a vote on immigration reform in order to allow more details of the bombings to emerge and to provide time to scrutinize the national security provisions of the bill.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) Monday asking that national security concerns be taken into account in the immigration reform debate in the wake of the bombings and requesting that a vote on the bill not proceed until specific failures of the immigration system are better understood.
“The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system,” he wrote. “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.”
But at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legislation Monday Schumer argued against what he said were efforts to derail or delay a vote on the bill under the guise of concern about the Boston bombings and said the bill could be amended if there were ways to improve it as a result of what happened in Boston.
“Certainly our bill tightens up things in a way that would make a Boston less likely,” he said.
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