A Senate panel took up amendments to a comprehensive immigration bill Tuesday and was expected to consider a proposal aimed at tightening the monitoring of foreign students in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The measure, offered by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), would require the Department of Homeland Security to transfer all student visa information to border control agents at ports of entry. Aides on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is overseeing the amendment process, said the proposal was inspired by reports that alleged accomplices of the accused Boston bombers were living in the country on expired student visas.
See which amendments were adopted into the immigration bill
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In opening the committee’s session Tuesday, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel’s chairman, said a key consideration for him in the immigration bill was that “the pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants in the United States “not be a false promise.” He called on senators to reject efforts to set up procedures that he said would be “nothing but obstacles to that goal.”
Before considering Grassley’s amendment, the committee took up changes related to border security. On a voice vote, the panel approved an amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would limit the use of drones along the border with Mexico to three miles of the border in the San Diego and El Centro sectors.
The committee members then rejected 12 to 6 an amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would have required the Homeland Security Department to implement a system to verify the entries and exits of visa holders using biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and iris scans. The amendment was aimed at reducing visa overstays, which account for an estimated 40 percent of the illegal immigrant population.
Sessions argued that his provision would force the government to obey a 1996 law that called for implementing such a biometric system. But opponents, including Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said the system would be too expensive to establish in the short term. They said the immigration bill includes a provision to strengthen entry and exist verification using “biographic” data such as photographs.
Another Sessions amendment aimed at reducing the influx of legal immigrants under the legislation was defeated on a 17 to 1 vote. The senator from Alabama argued that the arrival of millions of job seekers acts to drive down wages and adversely affects U.S. citizens. Schumer and Graham said illegal immigration depresses wages much more and touted the bill’s provisions favoring “merit-based” legal immigration, which they said would better meet the needs of the economy than the current system based largely on family ties.
Immigration advocates have feared that Republicans would seize on the Boston attacks, allegedly carried out by two men who immigrated as youths with their Chechen parents, to rally opposition to the sweeping bipartisan immigration bill.
Grassley has been a leading critic of the legislation, and he cautioned last month that the Senate should move deliberately in the wake of the marathon bombings to determine potential weaknesses in the immigration system before making changes.