By Ed O’Keefe and David Nakamura:
The Senate panel plowing through a huge immigration reform bill on Capitol Hill agreed on Tuesday to tighten the monitoring requirements of foreign students in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
The amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security to transfer all student visa information to border control agents at the nation’s 329 ports of entry. The measure, proposed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), was prompted by an alleged accomplice of the accused Boston bombers, who was in the country on an expired student visa.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the proposal during a lengthy session Tuesday. The hope is that it would prevent lapses in information-sharing about foreign students when their immigration status changes while they are in the United States. Officials probing the Boston bombing discovered discrepancies in the status of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the three friends of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Tazhayakov, who is alleged to have helped Tsarnaev dispose of material from a college dorm room, left the United States in December, and his student visa status was terminated in January after he was dismissed from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. But U.S. Customs officials allowed him entry in January because they were unaware that his visa had expired.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that wrote the underlying immigration bill, said the Grassley proposal would “patch dangerous cracks” in the student visa system exposed by the Boston attack.
Grassley has been a leading critic of the overall immigration reform effort and cautioned last month that the Senate should move deliberately after the bombing to determine potential weaknesses in the system before making changes.
The immigration bill includes provisions to add hundreds of thousands of new visas for low-skilled and high-tech workers. The committee considered several proposals Tuesday to expand or contract the visa levels proposed.
The panel rejected another Grassley proposal to require businesses to make a “good-faith” effort to hire Americans before seeking out high-skilled immigrant workers, and a plan forcing companies dependent on such workers to continue counting them as part of immigrant worker quotas even if the worker is seeking permanent legal status.
Senators also overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would have limited the number of high-skilled immigrants who could enter the country. He argued that the arrival of millions of job seekers drives down wages and adversely affects U.S. citizens in the workplace. But Schumer and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), another Gang of Eight member, 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.
On Tuesday, the second day of committee debate on the measure, proponents were once again able to fend off the most drastic changes set forth by opponents and critics.
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