Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R-KS) is expected to testify Monday on the Senate’s immigration reform bill, invoking the Boston Marathon bombing to justify withholding legal status from immigrants in his prepared remarks. Kobach, a pillar of the extreme anti-immigration movement, claimed that the bill would grant “amnesty” to terrorists, thereby enabling them to legally travel abroad to get “terrorist training” and return to the U.S. to wreak havoc.
“As marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev demonstrated, an alien’s ability to travel internationally and gain terrorist training before returning to the United States can have deadly consequences for innocent Americans,” Kobach warned.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, had his citizenship application halted recently because a background check revealed the FBI interviewed him after Russia had flagged him as a potential threat. Ignoring this, Kobach argued that Tsarnaev cleared all background checks, and that the FBI erred in releasing him despite the lack of evidence of a threat at the time:
Although Tsarnaev entered the country legally, he was compelled to undergo background checks similar those that amnesty applicants would undergo. Tsarnaev cleared those background checks. He was also interviewed by FBI agents in 2011 at the request of a foreign government. The FBI found no links to terrorism and released him. That is far more scrutiny than applicants for the amnesty offered by this legislation would receive.
If Kobach is talking about Tsarnaev’s initial entry into the country, he likely cleared the background checks because he was a 15-year-old boy who immigrated with his family.
The Kansas official then claimed that Tsarnaev and other terrorists, such as 1993 World Trade Center bomber Mahmoud Abouhalima, were able to travel abroad to get terrorist training thanks to their legal status. Though Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia has not yet been proven to be a radicalizing field trip, Kobach argued a hypothetical terrorist who jumps through the many proposed hoops to gain legal status “also gains…the ability to travel outside of the United States to coordinate with international terrorist groups and then to return to the United States.” Rather than risk this coordination, Kobach seems to prefer forcibly keeping 11.5 million undocumented immigrants from traveling or leaving the country.
Other Republican leaders have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the Tsarnaev brothers’ immigration status. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) flatly rejected the idea that immigration reform should be paused because of the Boston bombing, noting that fixing the immigration system could help clarify potential threats by bringing law-abiding immigrants out of the shadows. The “Gang of 8” senators who crafted the bill also argued that the bombing actually shows the need to expedite the process of fixing a broken system.
Kobach is a major influence in the GOP’s anti-immigrant positions, as the architect of both Arizona’s infamous “show your papers” law and the Republican Party’s harsh immigration platform. As the party struggles to win over Latino voters, they may be reluctant to continue giving Kobach and other outspoken immigration opponents a soapbox.