The Boston-immigration reform non-sequitur

The Boston Marathon bombing has given us a rare opportunity to see politicians on both sides of an issue seize the same non-sequitur to promote their cause.  There is almost no overlap between the immigration status of the Tsarnaevs and the comprehensive immigration reform bill under consideration in the Senate, and yet both sides are insisting that the case should either accelerate the adoption of the bill — or postpone debate indefinitely.  That led in part to this testy confrontation in the Senate yesterday between Charles Grassley and Chuck Schumer yesterday, via Eliana Johnson at NRO:


Tensions rose at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Gang of Eight’s proposed immigration bill, as committee chairman Patrick Leahy accused opponents of the bill of trying to “exploit” the Boston marathon bombing for political gain. “Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said. ”Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”

But sparks flew when New York senator Chuck Schumer accused Republicans of doing just that. Schumer argued against delaying immigration reform due to last week’s terrorist attack and criticized Republicans for using it as “an excuse for not doing the bill or delaying it, many months or years.”

That insinuation was too much for Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, an opponent of the current bill, who angrily interrupted Schumer, asserting, ”I never said that! I didn’t say anything about delaying the bill!”

“I didn’t say you did, sir,” Schumer replied.

But Grassley actually had:

Grassley last week urged caution in proceeding on immigration reform, arguing that lawmakers should take more time to understand the flaws of the current system and to read the bill itself.

“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” he said. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”


So too did Rand Paul yesterday:

I believe that any real comprehensive immigration reform must implement strong national security protections. The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system. 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.

We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system. Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?

On the other end of the non-sequitur spectrum is Paul Ryan:

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said the terrorist bombing in Boston should push Congress to pass immigration reform.

Speaking at a church here alongside Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Ryan initially said he’ll “stay off of Boston” as a subject. But the GOP lawmaker relented when pressed about its impact on the debate over immigration.

“We have a broken immigration system and, if anything, what we see in Boston is that we have to fix and modernize our immigration system for lots of reasons,” Ryan told a throng of reporters. “National security reasons, economic security reasons. For all those reasons we need to fix our broken immigration system.” 


Even CBS took note of the exploitation:

And so on, and there are plenty of other examples. In my column today for The Week, I note that the Tsarnaevs’ immigration status has nothing to do with the processes that the Senate bill addresses, which makes both ends of this argument ridiculous to the point of demagoguery:

Lindsey Graham tried offering his own argument to push his bill in light of developments in Boston. “Now is the time to bring all of the 11 million [illegal immigrants] out of the shadows and find out who they are,” Graham declared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “We may find some terrorists in our midst who have been hiding in the shadows.” That’s certainly true — but entirely unrelated to what happened in Boston. Not only was Tamerlan a green-card holder for years, he had actually competed to represent the U.S. in the Olympics in boxing a few years earlier. His younger brother and alleged co-conspirator Dzhokhar became a naturalized American citizen last year, ironically on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Whatever else the Tsarnaev brothers were doing, they weren’t “hiding in the shadows.” …

That didn’t stop Charles Grassley and Rand Paul from demanding that consideration of the bill be stopped to reconsider national-security issues. “Given the events of this week,” Grassley said during a hearing on the bill Friday, “it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system.” On Monday, Rand Paul wrote a request to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone debate on the bill, saying that the bombing case had “exposed a weakness in our current system…. Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism?”

Those aren’t bad questions, either — but they are irrelevant to border security, visas, and the status of 11 million people already in the U.S., all situations that also demand attention. Nearly a decade ago, the 9/11 Commission highlighted all three of those issues as pressing national-security concerns, and the U.S. has done nothing to address any of them since. In part, that’s because Republicans and Democrats have fought continuously over whether to address them separately or comprehensively. We don’t have to wait to figure out what happened with the decision to admit the Tsarnaevs before fixing other long-broken parts of our immigration and national-security systems. Even if Paul and Grassley insist on addressing other significant issues, that could be accomplished through an amendment process to the central bill under debate.


The real question about the Senate bill is whether it actually fixes the systems it addresses.  So far, I’m not convinced:

Overall, I take an agnostic view of the Gang of Eight proposal. I want the issues identified by the 9/11 Commission to be resolved, especially on border security and visa reform. We need to find a way to treat the people encouraged by the U.S. to provide cheap labor over the years in a humane fashion while prioritizing those who played by the rules to live in the U.S., and that process should allow us to get a much clearer idea of who is in the country — and narrow considerably the search for those “hiding in the shadows” for malicious reasons. But national security has to come first, if for no other reason than to avoid having to address the same issues all over again a decade down the road. Does this bill do that? So far, the triggers don’t appear to have significant teeth, but the debate and amendment process may well improve them to ensure that we actually solve the problems we face.

Matt Lewis argues that the bill does solve those problems:

1. Border security. In 2006, the Secure Fence Act appropriated $1.2 billion (which many thought was an inadequate amount) to build a fence on 700 miles of the southern border. Much of this fence was never completed. This led border security hawk and former Sen. Jim DeMint (now head of the Heritage Foundation) to offer an amendment to the DHS appropriations bill in 2009 that would have mandated the fence be built by December 31, 2010. The amendment passed the Senate, but never became law, much to the dismay of DeMint and many other conservatives.

The new immigration reform bill contains $4.5 billion to implement border security. A majority of the border security funds go toward actual fence-building or maintaining a physical presence on the border — physical, not “virtual” fencing.

2. E-verify. Conservatives have long complained about employers hiring illegal immigrants and getting away with it. This bill contains tough e-verify provisions — potentially the biggest deterrent in the bill to future illegal immigration and illegal immigrants not eligible for legalization remaining in the US. This is significant, considering that many liberals and civil libertarians (for whom immigration reform is an important issue) oppose it. America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, viewed inclusion of E-verify as a “trade-off.” The ACLU obviously is  not enthused about E-verify forming a part of the bill. But conservatives got it into the bill.


Well, we can discuss just how effective these solutions are, and how much teeth those triggers will have, as long as we’re focused on the very real problems of border security and the broken visa system — neither of which have anything to do with the Tsarnaevs.  We can discuss whatever issues may arise in the investigation about their immigration to the US, but clearly those are separate from the large system problems in other areas of immigration and national security, and can be addressed separately, too.  Their case provides no reason to accelerate or delay consideration of issues that have festered for well over a decade, or determining whether this proposal solves those problems or makes them worse.

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