Boston Marathon Bombing Could Hurt Silicon Valley's Push For More Skilled Immigration

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FBI

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 older brother, Tamerlan — who died during a police chase early Friday morning — studied engineering at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and was a competitive boxer for a club called Team Lowell. Dzhokhar, the younger one, was a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth studying biology and honored as student athlete of the month, reported Natalie DiBlasio at USA Today. As a high school senior, he won a scholarship from the city of Cambridge for $2,500.

Educated in engineering and science — areas in which the U.S. has fallen further behind compared to the rest if the world — the Tsarnaev brothers emigrated into the U.S. from the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan and later attained green cards in the U.S. They fit the highly-skilled profile Mark Zuckerberg's group FWD.us is lobbying for.

Earlier this month, Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post introducing FWD.us, aimed at fixing the country's "strange" policy, which Zuckerberg said is "unfit for today’s world." Facebook's CEO wrote:

This is, after all, the American story. My great-grandparents came through Ellis Island. My grandfathers were a mailman and a police officer. My parents are doctors. I started a company. None of this could have happened without a welcoming immigration policy, a great education system and the world’s leading scientific community that created the Internet.

Today’s students should have the same opportunities — but our current system blocks them.

Zuckerberg and other major players in Silicon Valley, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, and Eric Schmidt of Google, argue that Congress needs to streamline work visas and provide a more efficient pathway to citizenship for immigrants specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Unfortunately, voting for immigration reforms couldn't have come at a worse time. Now those who oppose immigration have a very compelling reason to argue against reforms.

Tharsan Bhuvanendran, director of engineering at Manhattan startup Totsy — and an immigrant from Sri Lanka — told us that these lawmakers can now use this as an excuse "to vote the way they want to." But he doesn't think that anyone's minds have been changed merely from the Boston bombing.

"They already have their minds made up," Bhuvanendran, who is in the U.S. on a temporary status specifically available for highly-skilled workers, said.

During the first Congressional hearing Friday morning — hours after Boston's terrifying scene unraveled — Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley made comments urging lawmakers to consider the two suspects' reported immigration status when voting in the following weeks.

"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?" Grassley said.

But others, such as Alex Conant — a spokesman for Florida Senator Marco Rubio — urged that we shouldn't use "the situation in Boston" as a "tragedy to make political points."

Michael Wildes, immigration attorney at Wildes & Weinberg P.C. law offices, said lawmakers should not link the Tsarnaev brothers to the millions of immigrants waiting for legal status in this country. "We should never be a reflective democracy otherwise there will 11 million people here and our children will be facing the same problems," he told us. "If we look at the state of Israel and other exemplary nations, we should make sure that despite terrorism, we shouldn't lose faith or lose our stride in trying to fix our broken laws."

Below are the current caps for different types of workers who can enter the U.S. annually:

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Migration Policy

According to Wildes, the Boston Bombing is a just an excuse for Congress to get out of having to make a tough decision that's been at the forefront of debate for decades. "The silence in Washington right now is unacceptable in immigration reform. They might as well say they aren't prepared."



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