A Terrible Day for an Immigration-Reform Hearing

Even with the status of the two suspects unknown, the Boston bombing is already influencing the debate on overhauling current laws.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cancelled a planned appearance before the immigration-reform bill hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday to oversee her agency's participation in the manhunt in Boston. The suspects: Chechen immigrants.

"They got their start as refugees. Refugees from war," the uncle of the Boston Marathon suspects said of the young men, one of whom was slain in a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass., overnight.

The unfolding events in Boston and its surrounding suburbs immediately began to influence the debate over the immigration bill under discussion in Washington, as conservatives on Twitter began to prick at Sen. Marco Rubio over his support of immigration reform and to call for a slow-down in efforts to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the Unites States.

"Given the events of this week it's important to understand the gaps and loopholes" in the immigration system, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in opening remarks at the hearing. He said hoped the hearing would "shed light on the weaknesses of our system" and "how can we beef up security checks," as well as how to insure that "those who would do us harm do not receive benefits under the immigration laws."

Grassley described the committee as "off to a rough start," with the most members and staff on the committee not having had an opportunity to read the bill. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said he expected there would be a lengthy review of the bill and that he did not anticipate a vote on it until sometime next month.

The precise immigration status of the Boston suspects was not entirely clear. The elder one, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was featured online in a photo essay about his boxing aspirations titled "Will Box for Passport."

"I'm dressed European style," he described himself in the caption accompanying one photo. Another one said that he "fled Chechnya with his family because of the conflict in the early 90s, and lived for years in Kazakhstan before getting to the United States as a refugee."

Reported the New York Times:

Officials said that the two men were of Chechen origin. Chechnya, a long-disputed, predominantly Muslim territory in southern Russia sought independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then fought two bloody wars with the authorities in Moscow. Russian assaults on Chechnya were brutal and killed tens of thousands of civilians, as terrorist groups from the region staged attacks in central Russia. In recent years, separatist militant groups have gone underground, and surviving leaders have embraced fundamentalist Islam.

The family lived briefly in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, near Chechnya, before moving to the United States, said a school administrator there. Irina V. Bandurina, secretary to the director of School No. 1, said the Tsarnaev family left Dagestan for the United States in 2002 after living there for about a year. She said the family -- parents, two boys and two girls -- had lived in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan previously.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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