Will Marathon Bombings Derail Immigration Reform?

Jewish Activists Redouble Push — and Press for Asylum Rule

Shifting Debate: Jewish activists join demonstration in Washington for immigration reform. Has the Boston bombing left an indelible mark on the debate?
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Shifting Debate: Jewish activists join demonstration in Washington for immigration reform. Has the Boston bombing left an indelible mark on the debate?

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 25, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
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“It might make a difference politically, because of people’s knee-jerk reaction,” said Hetfield. But he argued that the Boston attack could, in fact, highlight the need for reform that would close immigration loopholes and ensure background checks for all. “Security and immigration reform are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “In fact, you can’t have security without immigration reform.”

Still the effort by immigration reform opponents to shift attention to security aspects of the issue could resonate with the Jewish community. It is a community known, on the one hand, for its strong support for welcoming immigrants, but on the other hand for its sensitivity to security concerns, especially when related to Islamic extremism.

“I’m more skeptical of [immigration reform] now than I was six or seven months ago,” said William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, in an interview with Fox News. He suggested that “before we move ahead with 880 pages of immigration reform,” a closer look should be given to security lapses such as those revealed in dealing with the Tsarnaev brothers.

Hetfield, making the case for easing asylum procedures, noted that the brothers did not abuse the asylum system. He stressed that asylum seekers undergo strict background checks before being allowed to stay in the United States.

Pro-immigration advocates in the Jewish community believe that these questions and similar concerns over entry of extremists to the United States will not weaken Jewish determination to see immigration laws fixed. “We’re a smart community, and we all understand it will make everyone more secure,” said Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League.

An April 22 hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee over a proposed comprehensive immigration bill made clear that the Boston attack and its aftermath now loom large over the discussion. A heated debate erupted as Chuck Schumer, a Jewish New York Senator who is among the authors of the bill, accused Republicans of pointing to the Boston attack as “an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it for many months.” The statement led to a harsh response from Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, who had said earlier that immigration reforms should be carried out carefully, in light of the Boston terror attack.

“The fact is that this issue will now be present in the debate, but it is hard to say if it will change the structure of the legislation,” said Audrey Singer, an immigration expert at the Brookings Institution. She noted that following the November 2012 elections, focus shifted away from security aspects of immigration and toward the potential economic benefits of overhauling a system that has failed to deal with America’s immigration needs. “Boston,” she said, “shifted back the focus and allowed those who have this point of view to be more vocal.”

The bill, compiled by a bipartisan group of senators known as the “gang of eight,” requires beefing up border security to meet specific criteria of preventing illegal crossing, followed by establishing a path to citizenship for an estimated 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States. It also provides more legal opportunities for high-skill and low-skill workers to come to America.


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