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Why the Boston bombing might hurt immigration reform
The suspects are identified as coming from Russia, near Chechnya, and immigration skeptics immediately cite them as an example of the need to tighten the borders
Anti-amnesty groups gather to protest immigration reform in Washington, D.C., April 10.
Anti-amnesty groups gather to protest immigration reform in Washington, D.C., April 10. Allison Shelley/Getty Images
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s soon as the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were identified as brothers born in Russia, hardline conservatives began citing them as poster children against some of the comprehensive immigration proposals under consideration in Congress. The suspects — 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who's on the run, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout — reportedly moved to the U.S. a decade ago. Their uncle said they were refugees from near war-torn Chechnya, and officials said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a naturalized U.S. citizen. Still, immigration reform skeptics, such as conservative radio host Bryan Fischer, said they were examples of why immigration rules should be tightened, not loosened.

Earlier in the week, even as investigators questioned whether the two blasts on Monday were committed by foreign terrorists or domestic ones, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to head off any attempt by opponents to use the attack to undermine his immigration proposals, which include a pathway to citizenship for some people who came into the U.S. illegally. "We should really be very cautious about using language that links these two things in any way," Rubio said.

But that didn't stop Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) from criticizing the proposals advanced by Rubio and the rest of the Senate's Gang of Eight. On Tuesday, King, who has called the plan a "ridiculous amnesty," demanded — before the suspects were identified — a delay in considering any immigration changes in case the bombers turned out to be foreign. On Friday, his colleague, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said: "Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system."

Advocates of immigration reform don't think much of the anti-immigration crowd's argument. "The simple fact is that the situation in Boston has little to do with the 'immigration system,'" says Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect. "Both suspects were legal immigrants who came over as children — tougher background checks or more security wouldn't have prevented the tragedy on Monday, or last evening's shootout."

Still, immigration-reform opponents appear at least determined to point to the Tsarnaev brothers' history as a reason for Congress to slow down. "How did they get in the United States?" asks Conn Carroll at The Washington Times. "Why were they given legal permanent residency? Why did they begin killing Americans? We don't know," and, until we do, we have to wonder whether it's wise to make any changes that open America's doors any wider, he argues.

Others say it's just wrong to try to politicize the deadly bombing by dragging it into a debate as far removed from the crime as immigration. "How can you tell whether the 7-year-old you're naturalizing will turn into a furious religious zealot 13 years later?" asks David A. Graham at The Atlantic. The older brother, Tamerlan, sounds like he "may have been an angry, isolated young man," but the younger one, Dzhokhar, has been described by many who knew him as "friendly and affable," with no indication that he had been radicalized in any way. "It's common sense for immigration officials to carefully screen who's let into the United States and who becomes a citizen, but it's inevitable that they won't be able to stop everyone."

This is the risk that we have to live with as citizens of a republic — the realization that the government cannot, and should not, seek total control over all aspects of citizens' lives, including their security. As legislators consider potential changes to the immigration process, it would be unfortunate for Boston to loom too large in their thinking. [The Atlantic]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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