Senator Charles (Chuck) Grassley (R-Iowa) is not a fan of immigration reform. He has found a way to tie the tragedy last week to the Senate proposal for immigration reform. He is just playing from the "never let an emergency go to waste" playbook. Grassley claims he is being "rushed" by the majority to pass a bill no one has read. On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the bill crafted by the "gang of eight." You can read the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" (S. 744) and check on its status here.
Grassley has been in the Senate since 1981. In his official remarks at the hearing on Friday, he said:
"Exactly 30 years ago today – on April 19, 1983 – this committee held a meeting to discuss the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Senator Simpson, the author of the bill, opened the meeting by presenting the bill and stating its purpose: “Its purpose, a very simple one, to control illegal immigration in the United States and to control legal immigration without limiting immediate family reunification.” He further stated, “The first duty of a sovereign nation is to control its borders. We do not do that.”...
Thirty years have passed, and we’re saying the same things and facing the same problems. We’re proposing the same remedies and asking the American people to trust that we’ll get serious about enforcing our immigration laws."
From that, you might think Grassley would welcome immigration reform. In fact, even his statements linking ast week's bombings to immigration could be seen as supporting fixing a system that is so clearly broken.
Again from his remarks:
"And, given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. 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. 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?"
First of all, we do know the "immigration status" of the bombers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother, became a US citizen in 2011 -- on September 11th that year. He and his brother came to the US with their parents as children Secondly, in a heated exchange with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Grassley claimed he did not accuse Democrats of politicizing the Newtown shootings when they pushed for gun control. The problem with that is twofold. It implies an equivalency that isn't real -- talking about gun safety/control in the wake of a shooting makes empirical sense, whereas tackling illegal immigration doesn't apply to Boston as the Tsarnaev brothers didn't enter the country illegally. And, maybe Grassley's memory isn't as good as it could be because he did accuse gun control supporters of exploiting the Sandy Hook shooting. Just a few months ago, he said tis:
"Although Newtown and Tucson are terrible tragedies, the deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years."
There are approximately 11 million people in the US illegally. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued this report summarizing the issue:
"The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States (37 million) is at the highest level in our history and has reached a proportion of the U.S. population (12.4%) not seen since the early 20th century. Of the foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately one-third are naturalized citizens, one-third are legal permanent residents, and one-third are unauthorized (illegal) residents. There is a broad-based consensus that the U.S. immigration system, based upon the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), is broken."
What happened in Boston was horrible. I would be lying if I said people on the left are as likely as those on the right to use the momentum from a crisis or tragedy to drive action on an issue. Yes, in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, closing the loopholes that allow people to buy weapons without going through a background check seemed reasonable. Of course, that is also because most people (from the polls I have seen anyway) believed all gun purchasers were required to pass the checks already so this might just have been about raising awareness, not a real shift in public opinion.
Grassley both says he feels rushed but also that the Senate has been debating this issue for 30 years (it's longer than that). It can't be both. Yes, this is a serious issue and S. 744 needs to be debated and discussed but to delay it because of an unrelated tragedy just proves how dysfunctional the US Senate is.
PS. Dear Chuck -- the hearings have just started on this bill, if you are so worried about being rushed, you have plenty of time to read it.