Boston Bombings Rouse Debate in Senate Immigration Hearing

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  April 23, 2013 at 9:24 AM EST

Thousands of people rally for immigration reform in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

There was little doubt last week’s Boston Marathon bombings would be raised during Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the comprehensive immigration reform proposal recently unveiled by a bipartisan group of eight senators.

They only question was just how much of a focus the Boston attacks would play in the session, which was intended to look at how the bill would impact the farming, construction, service and technology industries.

And the answer to that query came almost immediately.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., opened the proceedings by saying he was “troubled” by what he thought were attempts by Republican lawmakers to “exploit” the attacks in order to delay action on immigration reform.

“Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of these two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people,” Leahy declared.

Leahy also urged his colleagues against using the Boston bombings to deny entry to those seeking refuge from political persecution. The suspects in last week’s attacks are brothers of Chechen heritage whose family sought asylum in the U.S. more than a decade ago.

“[A] nation as strong as ours can welcome the oppressed and persecuted without making compromises in our security,” Leahy added.

In turn, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the committee, advised Leahy to adopt a prudent approach to moving forward with the legislation.

“If you want to avoid partisanship, I would say let’s be very deliberate. And I think you have been very deliberate so far. If you continue that deliberation I don’t think you’ll have any partisanship,” Grassley said.

“I think we’re taking advantage of an opportunity when once in 25 years we deal with immigration to make sure that every base is covered,” he added.

Grassley was also involved in perhaps the most heated exchange in Monday’s hearing, taking issue with comments made by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Gang of Eight.

Schumer charged that some individuals were using the Boston bombings to justify their calls to delay action on the proposal.

“I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened — that terrible tragedy in Boston — as I would say an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years,” Schumer said.

Grassley countered, “I never said that!”

During the initial Judiciary Committee hearing last Friday, Grassley urged his colleagues to reflect on the bombings as they considered the legislation before them. “Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Grassley said.

Leahy moved quickly to restore Monday’s session to order, banging his chairman’s gavel three times and pledging to committee members: “We will have the debate. I expect we will have a lot of debate.”

Schumer explained that his remarks “were not aimed at anyone on this committee,” but at unnamed people “out there” who’ve made such statements. “If there are things that come up as a result of what happened in Boston, that require improvement, let’s add them to the bill,” Schumer added. “Because certainly our bill tightens up things in a way that would make a Boston less likely.”

Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took aim at one of the major elements of the bill: providing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country. The freshman senator said lawmakers should limit their scope to the two main points of agreement: securing the border and improving the legal immigration process.

“I think if we are going to see an immigration reform bill pass, that should be the focus of the bill,” Cruz said. “I think if instead the bill includes elements that are deeply divisive, and I would note that I don’t think there is any issue in this entire debate that is more divisive than a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally, in my view any bill that insists upon that jeopardizes the likelihood of passing any immigration reform bill.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Gang of Eight, countered that those 11 million people “are not going to go away” and that the plan would require individuals to earn their citizenship by meeting a list of benchmarks, including learning English, paying a fine and back taxes, passing a background check and finding a job.

“I think most Americans would say that’s a practical solution,” Graham said. “And most Americans, like me, do not want to deal with this 20 years from now. And my goal is to end this debate and get it right.”

The debate over how last week’s events in Boston should affect the push to reform the immigration system also played out across the Capitol.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another member of the Gang of Eight, is running a campaign-style operation to sell the immigration plan. He released a statement Monday noting that he disagreed with those who say the attack “has no bearing on the immigration debate,” but said the process should still continue to move 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,” Rubio said.

But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying the national security questions raised by the Boston attacks “must be addressed” before the chamber acts on immigration reform.

“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.”

The Judiciary Committee will hold its third meeting on the immigration bill Tuesday morning, hearing from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She originally was scheduled to appear last Friday, but postponed in order to deal with the massive manhunt that was underway in Boston.

DREAMING OF DOCUMENTATION

A documentary film premiering in June looks to highlight the lives of undocumented people as the immigration debate heats up in Washington.

At an event in New York City Monday night, Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize winner who revealed in 2011 that he is in the United States illegally, showed a two-minute trailer for his film “Documented,” which depicts how he transitioned from a career as a journalist to becoming an activist on the issue.

Vargas was born in the Philippines and brought to California at age 12. He didn’t learn he was in the country illegally until he applied for a driver’s license years later. For the film, Vargas sent his co-director Ann Lupo to the Philippines to interview his mother, who he hasn’t seen in person in 20 years.

At the event, Vargas received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award and was lauded by one of the Tribeca organizers as courageous. He said Vargas has been able to “smash ideologies” on the issue of immigration.

But Vargas said his goal for the documentary is to showcase the stories of the people he’s dubbed the “dreamers,” or “Americans without papers.” Storytelling can remind people of the humans behind policy, he said. “This is what films do,” Vargas said. His 2010 documentary “The Other City” was about people living with HIV/AIDS in Washington.

Vargas said that when he was living in the shadows, lying to his colleagues at the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, “I felt like a coward.” He said the “out” activists had inspired him, and called for a group of them in the crowd to join him on stage. He said the undocumented immigrants standing next to him should be the ones to receive the hammer-shaped Tribeca award. “This is not mine at all,” Vargas said.

Activist Jose Antonio Vargas brings undocumented immigrants on stage with him at an event for his new documentary film.

“The real innovators and the real disrupters, here they are,” Vargas said. “No one is going to deport us.”

Volunteers wandering the event, held in an ornate synagogue built in 1849, asked people to surrender their “papers” throughout the evening, collecting cards that detailed each attendee’s country of origin. Outside, a handful of protesters held signs reading “No Amnesty” and “Deport Vargas.”

“Documented” is set to premiere at this year’s AFI Docs Film Festival in the Washington area in June.

Here’s Vargas in a June 2012 interview with NewsHour coordinating producer Elizabeth Summers.

Watch a short trailer about the people profiled in the film here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • President Barack Obama will dine with all 20 female senators Tuesday evening at the White House.

  • On Monday, the Senate voted to move forward with an Internet sales tax bill.

  • Sequestration is hitting the Federal Aviation Administration, and that may mean closing air-traffic control towers in lower-activity airports, Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler writes.

  • Dan Balz writes about the Washington Post’s new poll that found former President George W. Bush’s approval rating is up just as his library is dedicated this week.

  • Democrats are fretting that Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa intends to challenge Sen. Brian Schatz, who was appointed to the seat that the late Daniel Inouye had wanted to go to her. She recently met with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Schatz.

  • Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, the GOP nominee in next month’s 1st Congressional District special election, took out a full-page ad in the Charleston Post and Courier over the weekend explaining why he trespassed on his ex-wife’s property. Choice sections worth squinting over include paragraph six, where Sanford explains the controversy over his travel expenditures during the “Appalachian Trail” debacle, and the final paragraph, in which he compares his current political campaign to the Alamo, but states the wrong date for the battle.

  • Politico’s Morning Score got an early look at a new Sanford ad attacking his Democratic rival Elizabeth Colbert Busch as too friendly to labor unions in the right-to-work state.

  • Meanwhile, Busch has opened up a nine-point lead according to a new survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling.

  • The Boston Globe endorsed Democratic Rep. Ed Markey and Republican state Rep. Dan Winslow ahead of each party’s primary for the Senate special election next week.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterpart in the first quarter of the year.

  • The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says the top 1 percent of taxpayers would pay for the bulk of tax increases under Mr. Obama’s budget proposal, Bloomberg News reports.

  • Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., whom the House voted to censure in 2010, charges in a lawsuit filed against House Speaker John Boehner and six other lawmakers in federal district court that the House Ethics Committee withheld evidence that would have cleared him.

  • The dean of Lewis & Clark Law School asked the Supreme Court to approve before publication a student newspaper article covering Chief Justice John Roberts’ visit to the Portland, Ore., campus.

  • The Kentucky Progress PAC volunteer who taped McConnell’s behind-closed-doors remarks to campaign staff wants to work in journalism. The lede of his cover letter: “This is off the record.”

  • Mayors Against Illegal Guns released this two-minute video using well-known cartoonists’ work to promote gun control legislation.

  • California Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom passed over seven-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike Honda and endorsed Ro Khanna, a tech company lawyer and former U.S. Commerce Department deputy, for the 2014 House race.

  • The name on the signs sprinkled around Washington, D.C, may ring a bell. Republican Patrick Mara is running in Tuesday’s special election for an at-large council seat, mobilizing Republicans of the young professional set whose day jobs usually keep them focused on national politics.

  • The former chief of staff to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., filed an affidavit Monday stating that Bachmann had approved payments to an Iowa state senator who had worked on her presidential campaign, which is against Iowa Senate ethics rules.

  • Roll Call’s Abby Livingston was media blogger Jim Romenesko’s “disclosure of the day” Monday, and her disclosed conflict of interest is Texas-sized … at least in length.

  • The White House Science Fair Monday celebrated exhibits from 100 students. TechCrunch rounded up three super cool inventions. And in conjunction with the science fair, the White House released its first Vine:

  • A long-shot mayoral candidate suggests the band Vampire Weekend could write New York City’s official song if they voted for him. We’re curious, in this circumstance, would horchata become the city’s official beverage?

  • This one’s safe for work. Anthony Weiner returns to Twitter.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Gwen Ifill talks with former Justice Department official David Rivkin and the ACLU’s Laura Murphy to explore the legal questions raised by trying Boston Marathon bombing subject Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a federal court. Watch here or below.

  • Ray Suarez looks at the hunger strike among detainees held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

  • Judy Woodruff updates viewers on the trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

  • In a chat with Kwame Holman, Doris Meissner, director of U.S. Immigration Policy for the Migration Policy Institute, describes the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. and says that they are “deeply rooted” in American communities.

TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz, Cassie M. Chew and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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