Student Visas Language Taken Up on Senate Immigration Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to pass a proposal Tuesday meant to improve information-sharing on foreign students – a direct influence of last month’s bombings at the Boston Marathon – on the ongoing immigration debate on Capitol Hill.

The amendment to the Gang of Eight immigration bill from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would require the Department of Homeland Security to transmit information about student visas into U.S. Customs and Border Protection databases. If that isn’t done within 120 days, issuing certain student visas would be suspended. Such a precaution would ensure that student visas ran current when a student enters or comes back to the U.S. on that visa.

One alleged accomplice of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect from last month’s attack in Boston, was allowed to reenter the United States earlier this year although his student visa had expired. Azamat Tazhayakov, a classmate of Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, returned to New York from Kazakhstan on Jan. 20, although the school had already dismissed him.

Customs and Border Protection officials had not been told that Tazhayakov was no longer enrolled at the school. Tazhayakov, and his fellow classmate Dias Kadyrbayev, is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice. Another alleged accomplice, Robel Phillipos, is accused of lying to federal agents. A congressional aide said the Grassley amendment would allow all ports of entry to have the most updated information on student visas.

The bulk of this week’s committee debate on the Senate Gang of Eight bill will center on reforming legal immigration efforts, such as visas for high-skilled workers and a new guest-worker program. A central battle will be protecting the delicately negotiated guest-worker program – a product of negotiations between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Earlier Tuesday, senators turned back an amendment from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a leading critic of the immigration bill, to require a biometric entry and exit system at all ports of entry.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is a key member of the Gang of Eight but does not sit on the Judiciary Committee, is “disappointed” that the committee rejected the amendment, spokesman Alex Conant said in an email.

”Senator Rubio will fight to add biometrics to the exit system when the bill is amended on the Senate floor,” Conant said. “Having an exit system that utilizes biometric information will help make sure that future visitors to the United States leave when they are supposed to.”
Another Sessions proposal – this one to limit the total number of legal immigrants to 20 million over a decade – was also rejected. One of Sessions’s many arguments against the immigration bill is that it would introduce an unreasonably high level of immigration to the U.S. that would put American workers at a disadvantage for jobs, while pulling down wages. “I don’t believe that economists would say, particularly for lower-income Americans, that we need more workers right now,” he said. “I just don’t see how that’s possible.”
Still, all senators on the committee besides Sessions shot down the amendment. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has normally allied with Sessions during the committee votes, said he opposed the proposal because he was a “full-throated advocate of legal immigration.”