The Boston Attack Has Nothing to Do With Immigration Reform

Evan Soltas is a contributor to Bloomberg View.
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"Just push it back a month or two."

"Given the events of this week, it is important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system."

"We need to take a look at the big picture."

Those are quotes from three congressmen -- Senators Dan Coats and Chuck Grassley and Representative Steve King, respectively -- who all drew a link between last week's bombings in Boston and legislation pending in the Senate to rewrite the nation's immigration laws. For Coats, Grassley and King, the attack should make us think again.

(Grassley has since denied he took this position, shouting, "I never said that! I never said that!" at Senator Chuck Schumer during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday afternoon. Grassley, however, did say that -- as did Coats and King.)

Supporters of the Senate's immigration reform effort pushed back with similar rhetoric. "What happened in Boston and international terrorism I think should urge us to act quicker, not slower," said Senator Lindsey Graham. Representative Paul Ryan and Senators Dick Durbin and John McCain have all made similar petitions to expedite the immigration bill.

Both sides used the attack in Boston as a prop.

Experts on immigration policy have no idea what these seven congressmen are talking about. "Both arguments, really, are specious," said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written a book on immigration policy and terrorism.

"I don't think there's anything that could have been done through the immigration system that would have had any impact on this attack," Alden said. "And, conversely, I don't think there's anything in the immigration reform bill that would have any impact, either. It appears to be completely irrelevant, given the intelligence we have now on the Tsarnaev brothers."

"Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev emigrated from Russia to the U.S. with their parents at ages 8 and 15. Unless there's an immigration system that can detect potential for radicalization 11 years ahead," Alden said, "senators who bring up Boston are blowing smoke."

Tamerlan's trip to Russia in 2012 is beside the point as well. "That appears to be a case of an intelligence failure rather than one of immigration," Alden said. "Given that Tamerlan was a permanent resident, the tools of the existing immigration system would have been more than sufficient, had the FBI come up with definitive information. The U.S. could have easily revoked his visa."

Terri Givens, an associate professor at the University of Texas with expertise in immigration policy and security, said that Republicans calling for delay have a strategy, and a precedent, in mind: the 9/11 attack. "9/11 took immigration reform off the agenda as everything switched to security," Givens said.

"President George W. Bush had been crafting a guest-worker program with Mexican President Vicente Fox," she said, "when 9/11 put Bush and Fox's plans on hold for five years. When Bush finally put forward his immigration plan in 2006, it died in the Senate the next year. Senators who mention the Boston bombing are simply being disingenuous," Givens added. "These senators and congressmen will be against or for the bill regardless."

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