The U.S. government will incorporate lessons from the Boston Marathon bombings to boost the nation’s security, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
“We will learn lessons from this attack, just as we have from past instances of terrorism and violent extremism,” Napolitano said. “We will apply those, we will emerge even stronger.”
Napolitano was the sole witness at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today in Washington to examine a proposed rewrite of U.S. immigration law.
Following the April 15 bombings in Boston, in which two ethnic Chechens who immigrated legally to the U.S. were identified as suspects, a number of Republican lawmakers have called for stronger border control and stricter background checks for immigrants who would seek citizenship under the plan.
Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the committee’s top Republican, said today that the Boston attacks “are reminders that our immigration system is directly related to our sovereignty and is a national security matter.”
Grassley noted that several of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers overstayed their visas and that one of the suspected Boston bombers traveled to Russia in 2012. He said he was concerned that the Senate proposal “weakens the entry-exit system because it does not require biometric identifiers.”
Criminal background checks, which the immigration bill would require before undocumented immigrants could become citizens, could be “serious trouble” if they are “anything like they were on the Boston bomber,” Grassley said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and co-author of the immigration proposal, pressed Napolitano for details on why authorities weren’t alerted when bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev returned from Russia. Tsarnaev, 26, died of injuries sustained during a gun battle with police four days after the attack.
Napolitano said the FBI’s text alert on Tsarnaev had expired.
Graham said he would like authorities to take more time to interview the surviving suspect, Tsarnaev’s 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, outside the bounds of constitutional protections of the Miranda warning of suspects’ right to remain silent and to have a lawyer.
The Justice Department had instructed law enforcement officers not to advise Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of his constitutional rights after his arrest, based on a public-safety exception to the Miranda rule.
“I would imagine he’s going to tell us that his brother was a bad guy and he was a bit player,” Graham said.
Napolitano told Graham that “all threads are being pulled” in the investigation, adding that she would share more at a classified briefing on April 25.
Napolitano told senators she was “committed to finding out why this happened, what more we can do to prevent attacks like this in the future and making sure that those responsible for this unconscionable act of terror face justice.”
The Senate immigration proposal would allow undocumented immigrants who pay at least $2,000 in fines and meet other criteria to apply for citizenship after more than a decade in the U.S., though only if specific border security benchmarks are reached.
The border plan must, within five years, result in an apprehension rate of at least 90 percent in “high-risk” sectors where more than 30,000 people are caught a year. If that goal isn’t met, the proposal would establish a commission of border-state officials and border-security experts to recommend ways to achieve the 90 percent goal.
Napolitano said she “absolutely” thought the immigration plan would make the nation more secure, in part by letting the Homeland Security Department focus more on people in the country who are committing or interested in committing crimes.