Boston Manhunt Shifts Immigration Debate

FBI(WASHINGTON) -- While the bombings, city-wide lockdown and dragnet search in Boston have captured the nation's attention, they've also stirred new discussion in Washington about U.S. immigration policies.

In any other week, Friday would have been a landmark for immigration reform, but as more information comes out about the suspects involved in the Boston Marathon bombings, momentum for action on immigration seems to have taken a hit as at least one senator suggested that attacks by foreign-born suspects should put the brakes on Washington's current push for immigration reform.

"Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. While we don't yet know the immigration status of people who have 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?" Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said at a hearing on immigration reform Friday.

"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?" Grassley said.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter cited the Boston suspects in a jab at Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whom she has criticized for advocating for changes to immigration law.

"It's too bad Suspect # 1 won't be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now," Coulter tweeted.

Suspects in the Boston attack, Dzhokhar Tsarnev,19, for whom authorities are still searching, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a shootout early Friday morning, have been identified as ethnically Chechen. Both were born in Kyrgyzstan.

Friday marked the beginning of the first full Senate Judiciary committee hearing on immigration reform. This week, the "Gang of Eight" unveiled a proposal, including added border-security requirements and new citizenship eligibility for immigrants who entered the country illegally. The much anticipated bill is expected to serve as a starting point for discussion of further changes to U.S. immigration laws.

Unlike Grassley, others speaking at the hearing explained how the new immigration measures would allow for stronger, not weaker, tracking and security.

"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. In general, we're a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etc., has conducted background checks and no longer needs to look at needles through haystacks," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and a "Gang of Eight" member, said at the same hearing.

"Two days ago as you may recall there widespread erroneous reports of arrests being made. This just emphasizes how important it is to allow the actual facts to come out before jumping to any conclusions about Boston," Schumer said.

After a meeting with President Obama Friday morning, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also a member of the "Gang of Eight," said he "doesn't see any connection" between what's happening in Boston and the effort to change U.S. immigration laws.

"Some of our bill is exit and entry required documentation ... [that] would make it harder for people to enter and leave the country," McCain said. "Better tracking of who's in our country and who's not [that would] enhance our ability to keep our country secure."

Former White House press aide Tony Fratto, who worked under President George W. Bush, warned on Twitter against drawing any comparisons.

"There is no lesson or consequence from events in #Boston relevant to the immigration reform debate. Stop that idiocy," Fratto tweeted.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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