Washington (CNN) – A bipartisan plan to overhaul the nation's immigration system, in the works for months, faced delays this week as lawmakers and President Barack Obama shifted focus to the bomb attack in Boston.
But the measure, which was formally filed for consideration in the Senate early Wednesday, already faces blowback from some opponents of immigration reform, who argue Monday's attack - which was committed by a yet unknown perpetrator – should be cause for reconsidering any reform making it easier for immigrants to gain citizenship.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said on C-SPAN that his thoughts after Monday's bombings – which killed three people and left more than one hundred injured - turned from victims' families to the security risks posed by immigration.
"Oh my gosh, we've seen this in Israel," Gohmert recalled thinking. "And after Israel had to suffer the slings and arrows and deaths and maiming for so long…finally the Israeli people said, you know what, enough. They built, over 70% of it is just a fence, and the rest of it is a wall, to prevent snipers from knocking off their kids. And they finally stopped the domestic violence from people who wanted to destroy them. And I'm concerned we need to do that as well."
Gohmert, a conservative Republican with a long history of opposing Obama's policies, acknowledged it remained to be seen whether Monday's attack was at the hands of a foreign or domestic terrorist. But he maintained American security was at stake if immigrants who came into the country illegally are allowed to remain.
"We know that people are being trained to come in to act Hispanic when they're radical Islamist," he said. "We know these things are happening, and it's just insane not to protect ourselves and make sure that people come in, as most people do, they want the freedoms we have."
That remark drew a sharp reaction from the center-right Hispanic Leadership Network, whose executive director Jennifer S. Korn wrote Gohmert's comments were "unacceptable, offensive, and ignorant."
"Using a national tragedy to further his own anti-immigration reform agenda is not only shameful, but also a blatant attempt to disingenuously twist public sentiment at a vulnerable time," she wrote.
His comments were similar to remarks Tuesday by another House Republican, Rep. Steve King of Iowa. He told the National Review the Boston bombs should act as an impetus to further investigate America's system of awarding student visas.
"Some of the speculation that has come out is that, yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa," King told the National Review's Robert Costa. "If that's the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture."
After the National Review's interview with King was published online, the Chinese Consulate in New York said a Chinese national was one of the three people killed in Monday's terror bombings. The victim was a postgraduate student at Boston University, the school said.
"We need to be ever vigilant. We need to go far deeper into our border crossings," King continued, adding: "We need to take a look at the visa-waiver program and wonder what we're doing. If we can't background-check people that are coming from Saudi Arabia, how do we think we are going to background check the 11 to 20 million people that are here from who knows where?"
Two Republicans who helped craft the immigration legislation being advanced in the Senate dismissed Kind and Gohmert's assertions as overly speculative Tuesday.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said lawmakers should be "very cautious about using language that links these two things in any way," adding it was far too early in the investigation to make conclusions on policy changes.
"We know very little about Boston other than that it was obviously an act of terror," Rubio said. "We don't know who carried it out or why they carried it out, and I would caution everyone to be very careful about linking the two."
Rubio is a key player in the push this year to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which has faced staunch Republican opposition in years past. He appeared on every Sunday morning show this weekend pitching the bipartisan Senate plan, which includes requirements for ramping up border security as a prerequisite for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, is another Republican member of the "Gang of Eight" that developed the immigration measure introduced Wednesday. He said after meeting with Obama Tuesday the links between immigration reform and the Boston attacks were premature.
"I would argue passage of comprehensive immigration will enhance our ability to keep our country secure," McCain said, citing various elements of the bill, including one that would require documentation from those entering and exiting the country.
CNN's Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.