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Leahy: GOP exploiting Boston bombings to stop immigration reform

Democratic lawmakers accused Republicans yesterday of trying to “exploit” the Boston Marathon bombings for political gain, revealing divisions that could complicate prospects for a bipartisan effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that turned testy at times, Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, chastised some of his GOP colleagues for tying last week’s attack to the debate over a comprehensive immigration bill that was introduced last week.

The two bombing suspects were members of an ethnic Chechen family that received asylum in 2002 under U.S. immigration law, prompting many Republicans to urge caution on border-control reform.

“Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said during his opening remarks on the 844-page bill.

“I urge restraint in that regard. Refugees and asylum-seekers have enriched the fabric of this country from our founding. . . . Let no one be so cruel as to use these heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”

Sitting next to Leahy, Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, responded to the chairman by comparing the GOP concerns to the push by Democrats for greater gun control after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December.

“When you proposed gun legislation, we did not accuse you of using the Newtown killings as an excuse,” Grassley said. “I think we’re taking advantage of an opportunity – when once in 25 years we deal with immigration – to make sure every base is covered.”

While the hearing was under way, Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, a co-sponsor of the immigration bill, issued separate statements calling on lawmakers to take time to learn whether U.S. immigration laws did not properly vet the Tsarnaev family before granting asylum protections.

Rubio, who did not attend the hearing, said he disagreed with Leahy that Boston was not relevant to the debate.

He said the bill would improve border security but “Congress needs time to conduct more hearings and investigate how our immigration and national security systems could be improved going forward.

The attack reinforces why immigration reform should be a lengthy, open and transparent process.”

Proponents of immigration reform fear that critics will use legislative delays to lengthen the debate and introduce amendments aimed at killing the agreement, which features a path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

A similar strategy helped doom a bipartisan immigration bill in the Senate in 2007.

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