Bloomberg News

Parties Split on Tracking Foreigners Remaining in U.S. Illegally

May 21, 2013

Republicans in the House and Senate are insisting that a revision of immigration law include ways to prevent foreigners from staying in the U.S. on expired visas.

A House panel will hear testimony today on the potential national security implications of foreigners remaining in the country on expired visas. Senate Republicans yesterday urged adopting a fingerprinting or other biometric visa tracking system as they debated amendments on the Judiciary Committee’s fourth day considering a revision to immigration law.

“Solving the challenge of tracking down and removing those who overstay their visa is critical to our national security,” said Representative Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican who will lead today’s hearing of a House Homeland Security subcommittee. “At the same time we look to make changes to our immigration process, we must also strengthen our border security efforts.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday adopted two proposals to help prevent foreign citizens from staying in the U.S. on expired visas, in an effort to build Republican support for the bipartisan legislation to revise immigration policy.

A proposal from Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, adopted 13-5, would require setting up 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.

Taxes, Benefits

Also yesterday, Hatch said he won’t support the broader bill unless lawmakers agree to his changes regarding the taxes immigrants must pay and social benefits they receive. Hatch is a critical vote.

“It won’t be going anywhere without these amendments, because you’re not going to get any Republicans,” Hatch told reporters.

Hatch said he wants to require immigrants who seek citizenship to pay additional taxes and to make clear that unauthorized employment can’t count toward eligibility for Social Security benefits. He is proposing a five-year waiting period before people on the path to citizenship can receive subsidies under the 2010 health-care law.

Hatch also has said he will oppose the bill unless Democrats agree to amendments favoring technology companies that seek to hire more high-skilled foreign workers. He has been meeting with Democrats to work toward a compromise.

“I am working in good faith, they’re working in good faith,” Hatch said. He said he would vote for the bill in the Judiciary Committee if lawmakers reach what he views as an acceptable compromise on the high-technology visa issue.

Rubio’s Support

Hatch’s amendment on biometric screening was praised by Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who co-authored the immigration legislation and whose support is critical to its passage. In a statement, Rubio said he would “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 Rubio criticized the defeat of an amendment from Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions to require use of a biometric system at all U.S. airports.

New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democratic co-author of the bill, supported the amendment, which he called “a good start.” Schumer opposed Sessions’s proposal last week.

The panel also adopted 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.

Overstaying Visas

Graham said his proposal was the product of negotiations with the Obama administration, adding that it was “very important that we do a better job when it comes to visa overstays.” The measure was adopted by voice vote.

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 100 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,” probably in early June.

A separate bipartisan House group last week reached a tentative agreement on its immigration proposal and may introduce a bill in June, said Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican and member of the group.

Senator Flake

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.

Sessions, 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.

Misusing Passports

Senators adopted an amendment offered by Utah Republican Mike Lee making the attempted misuse of a passport a criminal offense.

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 one 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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net; Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net


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