Senate panel drafting immigration bill agrees to more changes prompted by Boston bombing

May 20, 2013

Senators debating a bipartisan immigration bill agreed to changes Monday that would bar immigrants who received asylum from returning to their home country, a proposal drafted in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.


Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). (Melina Mara — The Washington Post)

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would terminate the asylum or refugee status of anyone who returns to their home country. Graham introduced the amendment after investigators discovered that Boston bombings suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had traveled last year to Russia and Dagestan after his family sought and was granted asylum from Dagestan in 2002.

In the months prior to his trip, the FBI had opened and closed an investigation into Tsarnaev based on tips from Russian authorities.


Tamerlan Tsarnaev. (Image via AP)

A U.S. counterterrorism task force later received a warning about Tsarnaev's overseas trip and the warning was delivered to a single U.S. Customs and Border Protection official assigned to Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a cell of specialists from federal and local law enforcement agencies. The warning went unnoticed until the April 15 bombing that killed three people and injured more than 250 others near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The committee last week approved another amendment written in the wake of the Boston attack that would prevent lapses in information-sharing about foreign students when their immigration status changes while they are in the United States. The change was prompted after investigators discovered discrepancies in the immigration status of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the three friends of bombing suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In other business Monday, the Judiciary Committee approved an amendment by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish a system to fingerprint departing immigrants at the nation's 30 largest international airports.

The program would begin at the nation's 10 largest airports in the first two years of the bill's enactment and to the next 20 largest airports by the sixth year after passage. (See a full list of the airports below.)

The amendment is considered a compromise proposal after the panel rejected an amendment last week by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would have forced DHS to roll out a biometric immigration tracking system at all U.S. air, sea and land ports of entry, a proposal deemed prohibitively expensive by members of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that drafted the underlying immigration bill.

Supporters say the Hatch proposal would more gradually move the United States toward a national biometric-based immigration system that would be able to track travelers by fingerprint or optical scanners at all international airports and seaports.

Senators working on the immigration bill sought a compromise proposal after lengthy, at-times heated debate on the Sessions amendment last week and after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- a key member of the "Gang of Eight" -- signaled that he would seek to revive the biometric issue once the immigration bill makes it to the full Senate.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to plow ahead with its work into late Monday as it seeks to wrap up debate on the immigration bill by week's end. By Tuesday, the panel should be on to the most controversial aspects of the bill regarding how to handle the legal status of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United states.

The list of the 30 airports affected by the Hatch amendment are listed below, as provided by the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.):

  • ATL - Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Intl
  • BOS - Boston Logan Intl
  • BWI - Baltimore/Washington Intl
  • CLT - Charlotte Douglas Intl
  • DCA - Ronald Reagan Washington National
  • DEN - Denver Intl
  • DFW - Dallas/Fort Worth Intl
  • DTW - Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County
  • EWR - Newark Liberty Intl
  • FLL - Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Intl
  • HNL - Honolulu Intl
  • IAD - Washington Dulles Intl
  • IAH - George Bush Houston Intercontinental
  • JFK - New York John F. Kennedy Intl
  • LAS - Las Vegas McCarran Intl
  • LAX - Los Angeles Intl
  • LGA - New York LaGuardia
  • MCO - Orlando Intl
  • MDW - Chicago Midway
  • MEM - Memphis Intl
  • MIA - Miami Intl
  • MSP - Minneapolis/St. Paul Intl
  • ORD - Chicago O`Hare Intl
  • PHL - Philadelphia Intl
  • PHX - Phoenix Sky Harbor Intl
  • SAN - San Diego Intl
  • SEA - Seattle/Tacoma Intl
  • SFO - San Francisco Intl
  • SLC - Salt Lake City Intl
  • TPA - Tampa Intl

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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