WASHINGTON – Every immigrant leaving the U.S. through one of the 30 biggest airports would have to be fingerprinted by federal authorities under an immigration reform measure that won early committee approval in the Senate on Monday.
The plan approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee is a concession to Republicans and some Democrats who support establishing a nationwide biometric tracking system at all U.S. air, sea and land ports of entry, a key recommendation made by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to track potential terrorists entering or leaving the country.
The committee rejected a similar GOP proposal last week that would have forced the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a biometric immigration tracking system at every U.S. air, sea and land port of entry. The committee’s Democrats and the four members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who wrote the immigration bill and sit on the panel said such a plan would be too expensive.
But bipartisan negotiators sought a compromise after Sen. Marco Rubio — a key GOP member of the Gang of Eight — said he supports the concept of a nationwide biometric system and would fight for the proposal once the immigration bill reaches the full Senate.
Under the new agreement authored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, the DHS would need to establish a fingerprint tracking system at the nation’s 10 largest international airports within two years of the bill’s approval. The program would expand to the next 20 largest international airports within six years.
Rubio deemed the proposal “a good start,” but said he would keep pushing for a nationwide system.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a key Democratic negotiator, said that establishing the system at 30 airports “will not be easy” but will be “doable in the next five years.”
The Judiciary Committee met in a marathon session Monday seeking to complete debate on the immigration bill by week’s end. The panel by Tuesday 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 U.S., committee aides said.
The panel also agreed Monday to changes that would essentially bar immigrants who were granted asylum from returning to their home country.
Senators unanimously approved an amendment by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham that would terminate the asylum or refugee status of anyone who returns to his or her 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. 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 based in Boston. The warning went unnoticed.