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Originally published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 8:03 PM

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GOP reconsiders immigration overhaul after Boston bombers

Revelations about the background of the bombing suspects prompted conservative critics of the new immigration overhaul to cast doubt on the bill.

Tribune Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON — The background of the Boston bombing suspects quickly emerged Friday as a potential hurdle to an immigration overhaul, as renewed fears of terrorism gave conservative opponents a fresh argument against a proposed new law.

“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a hearing.

“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he asked. “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?”

Conservative commentators echoed Grassley.

The proposed law’s “sponsors should delay debate on the bill until there is a full and complete account of how the children who became terrorists came into the country,” wrote Hugh Hewitt, a radio host, referring to the brothers suspected of planting two bombs at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 170.

After it became known that the older brother had died in a shootout with police, Ann Coulter tweeted: “It’s too bad Suspect #1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now.”

Rubio, the conservative Republican senator from Florida, is one of the eight senators who have negotiated the immigration proposal.

The suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are ethnic Chechens who came to the U.S. from Russia about a decade ago as refugees and were granted asylum, a law-enforcement official said.

Tamerlan was a legal permanent resident, and Dzhokhar became a citizen on Sept. 11, 2012.

Earlier, GOP allies of the immigration-overhaul package had seemed to be gaining ground in their party with the argument that passing a comprehensive bill was politically important for Republicans. But the bill embodies a series of politically complex compromises, and the uncertainty generated by the bombings seems likely to give new impetus to its opposition.

Backers believe the package needs to move through Congress quickly to avoid entanglement in next year’s election campaigns, and they responded rapidly to the new challenge.

“I’d like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston — or try to conflate those events with this legislation,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the chief architects of the bipartisan proposal, said during the hearing. “In general, we’re a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etc. ... and no longer needs to look at needles through haystacks.”

Two of the leading Republicans among the bill’s sponsors, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said in a statement: “By modernizing our system of legal immigration, identifying and conducting background checks on people here illegally, and finally securing our border, we will make America more secure.”

Friday’s hearing was the first on the immigration bill. The legislation would provide a 13-year path to citizenship for most of those now in the country without authorization, requiring them to pay taxes, fees and a $2,000 fine. Legalization would be tied to increased efforts to secure the Southwest border with a double-layer fence and drone surveillance.

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