As could be expected, many initial reactions to last week's horrific bombings in Boston turned to the immigration debate once it became evident that the two suspects grew up in Chechnya. While some politicians reacted with measured thoughtfulness, others came forth with the usual sound and fury.
First, the ugly: Ultra-conservative talking head Ann Coulter reportedly tweeted, "It's too bad suspect #1 won't be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio now, too," shortly after Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout.
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican of Iowa stated, "Given the events of last week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system...How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the United States? How can we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?" (Reported on ABC news.)
Ms. Coulter's inflammatory remarks can scarcely be taken seriously. But comments like Grassley's are more dangerous to the immigration reform movement, as they contribute to the pervasive feeling of fear and "otherness" that is commonly projected on today's immigrant population.
There is no doubt that the Tsarnev brothers committed a truly heinous act and that the remaining suspect should be punished to the full extent of the law, but why should the vast population of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants in this country also be punished for those horrific events? Why should we halt the movement for progressive reform to expand work and family-based visas - which are needed to support labor needs and keep families together - just when we are gaining momentum? The truly American thing to do would be to carry on in a pragmatic fashion despite this tragic aberration, which in reality bears little relation to the overall immigration plight in our country.
In fact, the bill before Congress calls for more heightened security than ever before. As it stands, the comprehensive immigration bill already calls for $4.5 billion in more border security measures. It also projects to tighten security measures on employers and at airports, ensuring that all comings and goings of both citizens and non-citizens will be documented.
New York Democrat Senator Schumer tried to quiet these debates at the first Senate hearing on immigration reform. "I'd like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston or try to conflate those events with this legislation," he said, "In general, we're a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etc., has conducted background checks and no longer needs to look at needles through haystacks."