Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The Boston bombing meets the immigration debate

A photo of "Suspect 1" in the Boston Marathon bombings. The reported immigrant background of the two suspects has quickly worked its way into the immigration debate.
A photo of "Suspect 1" in the Boston Marathon bombings. The reported immigrant background of the two suspects has quickly worked its way into the immigration debate. FBI

It didn't take long from the time the two brothers suspected in Monday's Boston marathon bombings were identified as foreign-born for the story to turn to their ethnicity and their religion. And, not surprisingly, to the immigration debate.

As reports of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Chechnyan ethnicity and Muslim faith circulated this morning, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off their planned hearing on the Senate's new immigration reform bill. It didn't take long for Boston to surface. From the New York Times:

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened a hearing on immigration legislation by stressing the issue’s importance “particularly in light of all that’s happening in Massachusetts right now and over the last week.”

“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Mr. Grassley said in his opening statement.

A headline in The Atlantic read "A Terrible Day for an Immigration Reform Hearing." Perhaps so. While much of the related coverage today zoomed in on the debate in Washington, pieces addressing stereotypes and labels have also begun quietly trickling out.

For the record, what's been reported  so far about the Tsarnaev brothers' background is that they are ethnically Chechen, born in the former Soviet Union. The brothers' family fled at some point, eventually arriving in U.S. in 2002. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old brother killed by police, was reportedly a naturalized citizen; 19-year-old Dzhokhar, who is in custody, is reported to have a green card. 

Here are a few of the immigration turns the story is taking, from the Senate reform hearing to immigrants and terror to the (very tangential) demand for high-tech visas:

The aptly-headlined story in The Atlantic addressed the blow dealt to reform talks; a Senate group introduced its long-awaited comprehensive reform bill Wednesday:

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.

Business Insider cited the brothers's educational background and connected them to the push for more high-skilled worker visas - although neither brother arrived this way:

Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are exactly the kind of immigrants Silicon Valley wants to hire, and is pushing Congress to legislate immigration reforms in favor of. This is potentially a big problem for skilled immigrants looking to come to the U.S., or companies looking to hire skilled workers from overseas.

The Daily Beast had what's likely the most dramatic headline of the day - "Some Immigrants Kill" - hinting at one of the directions the immigration debate is bound to take:

If immigration reform is to become law, then Congress and President Obama must first address the fact that not everyone who comes to America likes us. Indeed, some immigrants want to kill us. As the horror of the past week reminds us, America is not immune from terror on its own soil. 

Lastly, an essay in The Atlantic by writer Megan Garber brought up our tendency to rely on labels, stressing a need for complexity in media coverage:

The Tsarnaev brothers may have been Muslim, and that circumstance may have, in part, motivated them in their actions on Monday. They may have been Chechen. They may have been male. But that was not all they were. Their lives were like all of ours: full of small incongruities that build and blend to drive us in different directions.

The discussion will get more interesting in the days to come. Feel free to post comments below.

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