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updated: 4/21/2013 12:49 PM

Lawmakers question immigration, security checks after bombing

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Bloomberg News

Lawmakers in the U.S. are questioning the effectiveness of the nation's immigration and security safeguards following the Boston Marathon bombing, in which the suspects are ethnic Chechens.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, immigrated to the U.S. in 2003, according to an uncle in Maryland. He became a naturalized American citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, according to law enforcement officials. His 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed during an April 19 confrontation with police in Massachusetts.

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The older brother had been brought to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation two years ago by a foreign government concerned he held extremist Islamist beliefs, the agency said in a statement. A law enforcement official identified the foreign government as Russia. The FBI said it found no evidence of terrorist activity at the time.

"He applied for citizenship and the Department of Homeland Security put that on hold based upon his FBI interview," U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said today on CNN's "State of the Union."

The older brother was a legal resident of the U.S. from Russia's mainly Muslim North Caucasus region. He flew to Russia in January 2012 for about six months, McCaul said.

"Why weren't customs flags put on this individual when he traveled abroad?" McCaul said today on CBS's "Face the Nation," adding that his committee will hold hearings on the Boston bombing. "What was he doing over there for six months? He was on the radar, then he got off the radar."

Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said today on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the older brother "may have traveled on an alias to get back to his home country," where "he may have received training" for the Boston bombing.

Yet Rogers defended the actions of the FBI, saying that the suspect's trip to Russia came after U.S. authorities investigated him.

"That case was closed prior to his travel," Rogers said. "I don't think they missed anything."

McCaul has sent a letter to the heads of the Department Homeland Security, FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence requesting all government information pertaining to the older brother by April 26.

"I want to know how the FBI or the system dropped the ball when he was identified as a potential terrorist," Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said today on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "The fact that we could not track him has to be fixed," Graham said. "It's people like this that you don't want to let out of your sight and this was a mistake. I don't know if our laws are insufficient or the FBI failed, but we're at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game." Senate Democrats also are demanding answers. "This man was pointed out by a foreign government to be dangerous," Charles Schumer of New York said on the same program. "He was interviewed by the FBI once. What did they find out? What did they miss? Then he went to Russia and to Chechnya. Why wasn't he interviewed when he came back?" Some lawmakers said Congress should delay its push for a comprehensive rewrite of the nation's immigration laws in the wake of the Boston bombing. "Just push it back a month or two," Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, said on ABC's "This Week" program. "Let the emotions settle down. Congress has this way of just rushing to judgments without thinking it through carefully. We're talking months here or a few weeks, not years." The remarks echo those of fellow Republican senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. "How can individuals evade authority and plan such attacks on our soil?" Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at that panel's April 19 hearing on the immigration bill. "How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the United States? 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?" Delaying consideration of the bill isn't a view shared by all Republicans. "This is no excuse to stop immigration reform," Graham of South Carolina said on CNN. "Now is the time to bring all of the 11 million out of the shadows and find out who they are. Most of them are here to work, but we may find some terrorists in our midst." Rep. Peter King of New York, who cosigned McCaul's letter requesting information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, said that while the Boston bombing shouldn't derail the immigration debate, Congress should discuss whether the current system "should be refined." Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," King said "that if people are coming from a country which has terrorist background, if there's a strong terrorist element in that country" then "there should be extra vetting for people from that country." Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois said today that abandoning the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill introduced last week would weaken U.S. security. "The worst thing we can do is nothing," Durbin said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "If we do nothing, leaving 11 million people in the shadows, not making our borders safer, not having the information that comes from employment and these visa holders, we will be less safe in America. Immigration reform will make us safer, and I hope that those who are critical of it will just come forward and say what their idea is."

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