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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Doug Mills • New York Times ,

Immigration bill would boost security, homeland chief says

  • Article by: Ashley Parker
  • New York Times
  • April 23, 2013 - 11:12 PM

– Legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws would further strengthen the country’s security system to guard against cases like the Boston Marathon bombings, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in the last of three hearings on a bipartisan immigration proposal.

The shadow of the Boston bombings — the two suspects in the case entered the country legally in 2002 under an asylum petition by their father — has loomed over the hearings. Some Republican senators and conservative commentators have urged caution on any new legislation until questions surrounding the bombings have been answered.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the bipartisan group of eight who wrote the legislation, has floated the idea of an amendment that would require immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, who are deemed potentially “high risk” to undergo a more comprehensive background check.

In addition to any amendment that Graham proposes, aides said they expected a number of other security-related amendments to be offered in the committee and on the Senate floor.

But Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., another member of the group, said the Boston bombings should not serve as a deterrent for the legislation. “My argument … is that we had the World Trade Center bombing, we had Sept. 11, we’ve known whatever defects” there are in the immigration system, he said. “If anything, immigration reform creates the opportunity to strengthen your consular decisions abroad.”

In her testimony, Napolitano said the bill would strengthen border security by increasing financing and staffing, and by putting in place a mandatory electronic employment verification system, as well as an electronic system to track people when they leave the country.

Asked by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa about earlier reports that the FBI was not aware that the older suspect in the Boston case, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, took a six-month trip to Chechnya and Dage­stan in 2012 because an airline misspelled his name on a flight manifest, Napolitano said that, in fact, “the system pinged when he was leaving the United States.”

“By the time he returned,” she said, “all investigations had been — the matter had been closed.”

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