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Gang of Eight’s Immigration Bill Under New Scrutiny After Boston Bombings

Flowers at a memorial site along the course of the Boston Marathon. Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings and the push on Capitol Hill to overhaul the country’s immigration system have converged in recent days.

Supporters of immigration reform say the attacks should prompt lawmakers to quickly pass legislation to gain a better understanding of the millions of undocumented people estimated to be residing in the country.

“What happened in Boston and international terrorism, I think, should urge us to act quicker, not slower when it comes to getting the 11 million identified,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I think now is the time to bring all the 11 million out of the shadows and find out who they are. Most of them are here to work, but we may find some terrorists in our midst who have been hiding in the shadows,” added Graham, a member of the bipartisan group of eight senators that introduced a comprehensive immigration bill last week.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., another member of the so-called Gang of Eight, made a similar case for the group’s proposal during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The worst thing we can do is nothing. If we do nothing, leaving 11 million people in the shadows, not making our border safer, not having the information that comes from employment and these visa holders, we will be less safe in America,” Durbin said. “Immigration reform will make us safer. And I hope that those who are critical of it will just come forward and say what their idea is. We’ve come up with a sound plan to keep this country safe.”

But some conservatives have urged proponents of immigration reform to ease up in their campaign in light of the events last week, given that the suspects in the bombings are two brothers of Chechen heritage who immigrated to the U.S. more than a decade ago.

At the first hearing on the Gang of Eight’s proposal Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley said the investigation could “shed light on the weaknesses” of the current immigration system.

Grassley said the incident raises serious questions, among them: “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil? How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? How do 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?”

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., also voiced support for slowing down the pace of immigration reform. “You usually end up with bad policy if you do it in an emotional way or an emotional reaction,” Coats said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We have a broken system, it needs to be reformed. But I’m afraid we’ll rush to some judgments relative to immigration and how it’s processed,” Coats added.

The national debate over the approach to immigration reform in the aftermath of the Boston bombings has also divided residents of the west Philadelphia suburbs, reports Trip Gabriel of the New York Times.

With the Boston attacks occurring the same week the Gang of Eight unveiled its proposal, the connection between immigration reform and national security was unavoidable. The questions going forward then are how long do those two issues remain linked and which side is able to make a stronger case for either moving forward or slowing down the legislative process when it comes to immigration policy?

Those questions will begin to be answered Monday as the Senate Judiciary Committee holds its second hearing looking at Gang of Eight’s proposal.


Graham prompted a separate discussion about Americans’ rights after the conclusion of the Boston bomber manhunt on Friday, when he suggested that captured suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shouldn’t hear his Miranda rights from investigators before they questioned him.

Graham tweeted:

David Graham of the Atlantic calls the South Carolina Republican’s suggestion “breathtaking.” Tsarnaev is an American citizen who committed crimes on U.S. soil, he points out.

But reporter Charlie Savage explains in the New York Times how police planned to delay Mirandizing Tsarnaev. The Obama administration cited a “public safety exception” that allowed investigators to seek information that could prevent other violence before reading him his rights.

ACLU executive director Anthony Romero disagreed with the decision. He said in a statement:

Every criminal defendant is entitled to be read Miranda rights. The public safety exception should be read narrowly. It applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is not an open-ended exception to the Miranda rule. Additionally, every criminal defendant has a right to be brought before a judge and to have access to counsel. We must not waver from our tried-and-true justice system, even in the most difficult of times. Denial of rights is un-American and will only make it harder to obtain fair convictions.

Generally, a thin majority of Americans prefer advising terrorism suspects of their Miranda rights, according to this FiveThirtyEight blog post with poll data from 2010.

Whether Tsarnaev is physically able to answer questions raises another issue. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said over the weekend the suspect couldn’t communicate because of his condition. Officials noted a severe injury to his throat, possibly caused by a suicide attempt. But NBC News reported that Tsarnaev was answering some early questions Sunday in writing.

The focus on the decision over Tsarnaev’s Miranda rights led conservative lawmakers to lobby for a broader legal situation for the suspect. He should be tried as an enemy combatant, they said. That distinction would further suspend his rights and take him out of the federal criminal justice system. Instead, he would be charged “under the laws of war in a military commission or held indefinitely without charge as a prisoner or detainee of war,” the Washington Post explained.

Sens. Graham, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., released this statement Saturday:

We have concerns that limiting this investigation to 48 hours and exclusively relying on the public safety exception to Miranda, could very well be a national security mistake. It could severely limit our ability to gather critical information about future attacks from this suspect. We should be focused on gathering intelligence from this suspect right now that can help our nation understand how this attack occurred and what may follow in the future. That should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who serves as the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, countered that the enemy combatant approach for Tsarnaev would be “unconstitutional,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”

So far, there’s no indication that the Republican leaders’ approach would apply to Tsarnaev. Federal prosecutors still are at work on bringing charges against him.

If you’d like to relive Friday’s drama as it unfolded, the NewsHour produced two shows Friday night, with an original broadcast that coincided with police’s frustrated message that Tsarnaev was still on the loose and an update for viewers on the West Coast around 9 p.m. ET as the final standoff ended.

We looked at what is known about the Tsarnaev brothers and their connections. The NewsHour also reported how technology and social media were major factors in the investigation.

Watch Friday night’s breakings news here or below:

On Friday, the consoler-in-chief made a briefing-room appearance in his statement to the nation. President Barack Obama had been silent on the manhunt Thursday night and for most of Friday, partly to stay out of investigators’ way, Buzzfeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro wrote.

Watch Mr. Obama’s statement:


  • As the debate in Washington shifts from guns to immigration, The Fix articulates what Beltway-types have been hinting: Immigration reform stands a much stronger chance than the gun bill, and maybe even because of gun control legislation’s failure.

  • But Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Friday morning that his background checks amendment could get 70 votes if the NRA didn’t score of votes. But members, he said, are “scared to death.” Sporting jeans with a blazer and on his way to the mountains to hunt after a press breakfast at the Third Way, Manchin said his mission now is using his credibility as a gun-culture guy to get out the facts about his amendment to what he called the majority of NRA members who support “common sense” background checks.

  • Families of Newtown victims accused senators of “cowardice” over the weekend. “I’m honestly disgusted that there were so many senators that are doing nothing about the fact that my mom was gunned down in her elementary school,” Erica Lafferty told CBS’ Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation.” Lafferty mother, Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, was killed in the December shooting.

  • Mother Jones spotlights this prescient chart from the Sunlight Foundation, which helps explain why senators voted the way they did.

  • Democratic donors, including former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, plan to cut their funding to Democratic senators who voted against the background checks bill.

  • Stuart Rothenberg examines why one red state Democrat up in 2014 voted for the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

  • The Wall Street Journal traces the religious evolution of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother.

  • The NRCC on Monday is unleashing the “Patriot Program” to bolster its 11 most vulnerable members before it turns to attacking Democrats during the 2014 election season.

  • The Democratic tracker following Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage handed over his recording devices before a Chamber of Commerce dinner last week. But that didn’t keep the Bangor Daily News from hearing that LePage said in his speech he’d be “the next Scott Walker.”

  • New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie announced measures Friday to strengthen the state’s already strict gun laws, which would also make it easier to commit the mentally ill and require labeling of “mature” video games.

  • Peter Baker takes New York Times readers on a tour of the new George W. Bush Library. Mr. Obama will attend a dedication ceremony there Thursday.

  • And Bush says he hopes his brother Jeb will run for president in 2016.

  • While the NRCC may have dropped Mark Sanford, he received a little drop in the bucket from McCain’s leadership PAC at the end of last week. But even without a VoteVets ad targeting Sanford debuting Monday, groups against Sanford are outspending groups supporting him by more than three-to-one in the district.

  • The Republican National Committee kept its books in the black through the first quarter of 2013, with $8.67 million cash on hand and no debt. The committee raised $18.02 million, a total notable for coming largely from grassroots efforts to expand. Chairman Reince Priebus and the committee said 20 percent more first time donors gave than in the same three-month period of 2011, and 98 percent of the donations were less than $200. “These numbers show there’s great enthusiasm among Republicans to grow our ranks, welcome new voters, and build our party,” Priebus said.

  • The Republican Party is splintering over which major operative — Karl Rove, the Koch brothers or another group — will manage its voter data, Politico reports.

  • “I’m the Raul Labrador of the House,” not “the Marco Rubio of the House.” National Journal’s Tim Alberta profiles the Idaho Republican who’s bringing conservatives on board with immigration reform in the House.

  • As Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley ponders what’s next, he’s trying to build a solid “policy framework” modeled after Bill Clinton’s efforts before his 1992 campaign.

  • Koch Industries, the private company led by one-half of the pair of conservative activist brothers, is thinking about purchasing Tribune Company’s regional newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun. The New York Times reports this story.

  • Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., fell into a fountain at a gala, Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill dishes.

  • Well put, Amy Poehler.

  • NewsHour reporter-producer Katelyn Polantz will be joining an esteemed group at UC Berkeley in a few weeks as a New York Times Fellow for “The Changing Face of America: Inside the Latino Vote and Immigration Reform.”


  • Mark Shields and David Brooks reacted to how an American city responds to emergency and reflected on the defeat of the gun background checks bill, agreeing that supporters of gun control — and to some extent, immigration reform — don’t have the kind of mobilizing power that has propelled same-sex marriage proponents.

Watch here or below:

  • Christina Bellantoni and the Daily Download team looked at what happened to the #StopKony movement one year after millions watched the promotional video. Their segment explores the differences between marketing and activism.


Christina Bellantoni and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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