Skip to main content

Leahy: Boston bombings exploited in immigration debate

By Alan Silverleib, CNN Congressional Producer
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1306 GMT (2106 HKT)
Senator Charles Schumer (far R) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday in Washington, DC.
Senator Charles Schumer (far R) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday in Washington, DC.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Rand Paul seeks delay in immigration bill's consideration until more known about Boston bombings
  • GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley gets angry during remarks by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer
  • Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy says immigration reform opponents exploited the Boston bombings
  • Grassley: Gun control backers used Newtown killings to push for restrictions

Washington (CNN) -- Partisan tempers flared at a Senate immigration hearing on Monday as top Democrats accused opponents of comprehensive reform legislation of using last week's Boston Marathon bombings to slow or even derail the bill.

"Last week, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform began to exploit the Boston marathon bombing," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

"I urge restraint in that regard. ... Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous attacks of these two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hard-working people," Leahy added.

He said the bill crafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" would "serve to strengthen our national security by allowing us to focus our border security and enforcement efforts against those who would do us harm."

"A nation as strong as ours can welcome the oppressed and persecuted without making compromises in our security," he said. "We are capable of vigilance in our pursuit of these values, and we have seen the tremendous work that the local law enforcement as well as the federal law enforcement have done in the Boston area, and I am so proud of them."

Boston bombings cast shadow on immigration debate

Bombing enflames immigration debate
McCain: I can get the immigration votes

Leahy's statement, delivered at the start of the hearing, was met with a sharp response from the panel's top Republican.

"I want you to take note of the fact that when you proposed gun legislation, I didn't accuse you of using the (Newtown, Connecticut,) killings as an excuse," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

"I don't hear any criticism ... when there (were) 14 people killed in West,Texas, and (some political activists took) advantage of that tragedy to warn about more government action to make sure that fertilizer factories are safe," Grassley said.

"I think we are taking advantage of an opportunity when, once in 25 years we deal with immigration, to make sure that every base is covered," he added.

Grassley became visibly agitated later in the hearing when Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said "those who are pointing to what happened -- the terrible tragedy in Boston -- (are looking for an) excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or a year."

"I never said that!" Grassley yelled in response, interrupting Schumer.

"I didn't say you did, sir," Schumer replied. "I didn't mean you, Mr. Grassley."

Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions then accused Schumer of "demeaning" anti-reform witnesses at the hearing, partly by characterizing them as representatives of narrow interests.

Schumer, in turn, insisted that "what I am saying is, if there are things that come up as a result of what happened in Boston that need improving, that require improvement, let's add them to the bill because certainly our bill tightens up things in a way that would make a Boston less likely."

Opinion: Boston bombing shouldn't derail immigration reform

"That is all I am saying," Schumer concluded, "because I have heard lots of calls from people out in the country saying delay it."

Separately, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, sent a letter Monday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, urging a delay of any immigration legislation until more is learned about the alleged Boston bombers.

"We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system," Paul wrote. "Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from ... an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism?"

Asked about the letter, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed Paul's concern, arguing that "comprehensive immigration reform, as anyone who has looked into it can attest, would enhance our security."

Among other things, the bill now under consideration would prevent undocumented residents from gaining legal status if they have been found guilty of felonies or more than two misdemeanors.

Monday's hearing was the second by the Judiciary Committee on the nearly 900-page proposal put together by the eight senators. Over twenty witnesses were slated to testify, a schedule characterized by Sessions as part of a plan "to rush through this massive legislation before the American people know what's in it."

Opinion: Don't blame immigration for Boston bombings

The first hearing, held last Friday, was also marked by several references to security fears raised by the recent bombings. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is scheduled to testify before the panel Tuesday.

Assuming the immigration bill clears Leahy's committee, full Senate consideration of the legislation will probably occur in June, according to multiple sources.

A bipartisan group of legislators in the House of Representatives is crafting its own immigration reform proposal.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT