In the aftermath of last week's Boston bombing and late-night rampage that left five dead – including one of the suspected perpetrators – and more than 100 seriously injured, White House officials have been criticized over how the family of the accused suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his now deceased brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 came to the United States and whether the pending immigration reform bill leaves the country more vulnerable to similar attacks.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, speaking to senators during an immigration reform hearing Tuesday, rejected the notion that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects' family had an easy time getting into the country.
Facing discrimination as ethnic Chechens in Russia, the Tsarnaevs received legal status in the U.S. under the asylum process, which has become tougher to qualify for in recent years, Napolitano said.
"Over the past four years we have increased both the number and the coverage of the vetting that goes on," she said.
The DHS chief described a detailed process of interviews, background checks and supporting documents that asylum-seekers like the Tsarnaevs must submit to before being granted citizenship. The process can take well over a year and even then citizenship isn't guaranteed.
"Lastly, if you are granted naturalization, between then and the actual ceremony – right before the ceremony we re-vet everyone for a final time," Napolitano added.
She said that the current immigration reform proposal being debated in the Senate "builds on that."
"And one of the important things the existing bill does, quite frankly from a law enforcement perspective, is bringing all of the people in the shadows out of the shadows," she added.
But the administrations still faces questions about the FBI inquiry of dead suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which was requested by Russian security services prior to a trip there last year. Officials said the investigation turned up no red flags.
"They found no derogatory information, terrorist activity, domestic or foreign," said White House spokesman Jay Carney during his daily press briefing. "Having said that, this investigation will continue."
He acknowledged "there are many questions [about the suspects and bombings] that need to be answered."
"That's what a thorough investigation will produce, answers to all the questions about these two individuals, their activities, their travel and associations, what motivated them, everything that went into the decision that they took to engage in a terrorist act against the people of the United States and Boston," Carney said.