Sen. Dick Durbin said a bipartisan immigration bill introduced this week would enhance national security.
The measure's proposals to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, tighten border security, require employers to verify the identity of their workers, and track visitors' visas are all important to increasing security in the U.S., said Durbin of Illinois.
"First, we're going to make a dramatic investment in our border with Mexico," Durbin said on "Political Capital With Al Hunt," airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television. "Secondly, everyone, the 11 million people who were basically living in the shadows in America, have to come forward, register with the government, go through a criminal-background check. That will make us safer."
Durbin spoke as police were searching for a 19-year-old foreign national suspected in the Boston bombings after a second suspect was killed in an overnight battle. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, who has been in the U.S. for more than a year, escaped during a confrontation with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown, according to a federal law enforcement official.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced the immigration measure this week and are seeking support from House members. Durbin said he wants to get a bill through the Senate by the middle of the year with the support of President Barack Obama.
"With the president really pushing us, saying, 'Let's do it once and for all,' that helps," Durbin said.
An earlier effort to rewrite immigration law under President George W. Bush was delayed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and ultimately failed in 2007.
Durbin said the quick law enforcement response to the Boston bombings shows the improvements made since 2001.
"We learned a bitter lesson that day when we lost 3,000-plus innocent Americans, and we started making dramatic investments in intelligence-gathering, as well as law enforcement, hoping to protect America from anything like that ever happening again, knowing how tough a challenge that would be in such an open society," Durbin said.
Durbin also said the effort to enact gun-safety legislation will continue after the Senate this week rejected a proposal to require background checks of more firearm purchasers.
"I have never seen so many senators so down after the defeat of the most basic background check information when it comes to firearms," he said. "And to look up in the gallery and see those families for Newtown, families that we'd all come to know personally, as they filed out with their heads down, you thought to yourself, we let them down, we let America down. But it isn't over."
Parents whose children were killed in the Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; a political action committee formed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, herself a shooting victim; and the mayors' organization co-founded by New York City Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, are seeking to counter the influence of the National Rifle Association, which opposes gun regulation. The NRA is the nation's biggest gun lobby, claiming about 4 million members.
Durbin said the NRA attacked him during his election campaigns. "They almost beat me, because I really didn't have anybody standing my corner supporting my position," he said. "That's changing."
He expressed concern that another mass shooting will occur while Congress doesn't act on gun safety.
"Sadly, I'm afraid, there will be some other incident -- I pray it isn't as terrible as what happened at Connecticut -- but some other incident is going to remind us of our vulnerability," he said.