Patrick Leahy To Chuck Grassley: Don't 'Exploit' Boston Bombing

04/22/2013 10:50 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) chastised some of his Republican colleagues on Monday for saying immigration reform should be delayed in light of the bombing last week in Boston, accusing them of taking advantage of the tragedy to push their own political agenda.

"Late last week opponents of comprehensive immigration reform began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing," Leahy said at the second Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on an immigration bill released last week by the "gang of eight." "I urge restraint in that regard. ... 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."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the committee, said at an immigration hearing last week that reform should be partially reconsidered because the suspected perpetrators of the bombing were immigrants, one a legal permanent resident and the other a recently-naturalized citizen.

"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."

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the two brothers suspected of planting bombs at the Boston Marathon last Monday, had been in the U.S. for about a decade and entered under the age of 18.

Grassley defended himself on Monday, saying others have exploited tragedy on other issues, such as on gun control and workplace safety.

"I want you to take note of the fact that when you proposed gun legislation I didn't accuse you of using the [Newtown] killings as an excuse," he said to Leahy. "And I don't hear any criticism of people, when there's 14 people killed in West Texas, and taking advantage of that tragedy to warn about more government action to make sure that fertilizer factories are safe. I think we're taking advantage of the opportunity that once in 25 years we deal with immigration to make sure that every base is covered."

But other members of the Republican leadership are taking issue with that argument. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday he disagrees with the idea that the Boston bombing should delay immigration reform. "If we fix our immigration system it may actually help us understand who all is here, why they’re here, and what legal status they have," Boehner said on Fox News, according to Think Progress.

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m. -- Grassley objected later in the hearing when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the gang of eight, spoke about other lawmakers trying to use the Boston tragedy to delay reform. Schumer said they should try to amend the bill instead.

"I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston as a, I would say an excuse for not doing the bill or delaying it," Schumer said.

"I never said that," Grassley interjected, sounding angry.

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

Just a few moments earlier, one of his colleagues, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), released a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asking him to stop the movement of comprehensive immigration reform until " important national security questions" are addressed.

"I believe that any real comprehensive immigration reform must implement strong national security protections," Paul wrote. "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."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another member of the gang of eight, said in a statement Monday that it is important to consider Boston when discussing immigration reform, but that it shouldn't be used to kill the bill.

I disagree with those who say that the terrorist attack in Boston has no bearing on the immigration debate. Any immigration reform we pursue should make our country safer and more secure. If there are flaws in our immigration system that were exposed by the attack in Boston, any immigration reform passed by Congress this year should address those flaws. Congress needs time to conduct more hearings and investigate how our immigration and national security systems could be improved going forward.

The attack reinforces why immigration reform should be a lengthy, open and transparent process, so that we can ask and answer important questions surrounding every facet of the bill. But we still have a broken system that needs to be fixed.

This is a developing story and has been updated.

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