The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted two proposals intended to keep foreign citizens from staying in the U.S. on expired visas, in an effort to build Republican support for a revision of immigration policy.
The panel, in its fourth day of work on a comprehensive immigration bill, voted for an amendment by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican co-author of the legislation. The proposal would create a database to help federal law enforcement and national security agencies identify individuals who remain in the U.S. after their visas expire.
Graham said he had been discussing with the Obama administration ways to make his proposal “more effective.” He said it was “very important that we do a better job when it comes to visa overstays.” The measure was adopted by voice vote.
The panel also adopted a proposal from Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah that would require a biometric screening system at the nation’s 30 busiest airports to track the departure of foreigners on international flights. Such systems can include fingerprinting or facial-recognition scans.
“This is a good start,” said New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic co-author of the bill. He supported the amendment, which was adopted 13-5.
The amendment was also praised by Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who said in a statement, “I will continue to fight to make the tracking of entries and exits include biometrics in the most effective system we can build when the bill is amended on the Senate floor.” Last week he criticized the defeat of an amendment to require a biometric system before any undocumented immigrant could become a citizen.
The Senate bill seeks to balance a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., sought by Democrats, with enough border-security improvements to satisfy Republicans. It was written by a group of four Republican and four Democratic senators. So far, the measure has survived proposed changes in the Judiciary Committee that might doom it on the Senate floor.
The Judiciary Committee has adopted about 80 amendments. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said last week he wants to bring the measure to the full Senate “as soon as it’s ready.”
Graham and another Republican co-author of the bill on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, have opposed many of their fellow Republicans’ attempts to change the bill in ways that would lose Democratic support.
About 40 percent of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have stayed after their visas expired. Azamat Tazhayakov, a Kazakhstani who was a friend of a Boston Marathon bombing suspect and is charged with hindering the investigation of that attack, re-entered the U.S. in January on an expired student visa, authorities have said.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican and a chief opponent of the immigration bill, called Graham’s proposal “a step in the right direction.” Still, he said the measure should go further and require use of a biometric entry-exit tracking system before allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens.
The panel adopted a second Graham amendment that would terminate an individual’s asylum or refugee status in most cases where the person returns to his or her home country.
Senators rejected a proposal from Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s top Republican, that would prevent provisions on asylum and student visa provisions from taking effect until a year after the director of national intelligence submits to Congress a review of issues related to the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing.
“We need to understand what happened in the Boston case so we can prevent something like this from happening again,” Grassley said.
By a vote of 8-10, senators rejected a proposal from Sessions that would cause undocumented immigrants starting on the path to citizenship or in the U.S. on temporary work permits to be ineligible for the earned income tax credit, which benefits low- and middle-income families.
“These are the kinds of issues we will be taking up on the floor,” Schumer said.