All foreigners departing from the nation’s 10 busiest airports will have to have their fingerprints scanned within two years, according to a plan adopted by a Senate panel Monday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has been debating a sweeping immigration bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws for three weeks now, and properly securing the nation’s borders has been a time-consuming, rigorous debate throughout.
Republicans on the committee, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., spent much time last week pushing for a nationwide program to collect the “biometric” data of peopleleaving the U.S., such as fingerprints and iris scans. They want that system to better track so-called “visa overstays” — people who enter the country legally but remain in the county after their visas expire. That group makes up about 40% of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country.
“If you’re a sovereign nation, you’ve got to control your borders. That’s what other countries do,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during Monday’s debate.
That plan was voted down last week when Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said it was too expensive and too complicated. She and others worried that failure to develop the system, which the government has been unable to implement despite congressional mandates dating back to 2001, would prevent the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants from being able to apply for green cards and U.S. citizenship.
Feinstein said she fully supports a “biometric” program but argued that the current system of collecting “biographic” information, such as names and dates of birth, when people leave the country has been successful enough.
But on Monday, Feinstein and others on the committee agreed to a scaled-down proposal from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Under the plan, which was adopted on a 13-5 vote, the Department of Homeland Security would be required to:
- Implement a biometric exit system at the 10 U.S. airports with the highest volume of international travelers within two years.
- Implement a biometric exit system at the 30 busiest airports within six years.
- Create a plan to implement a biometric exit system at “major” sea and land ports within six years.
Feinstein, who chairs the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, called Hatch’s compromise a responsible response to the complaints raised during the bordersecurity debate.
“It really shows that people have listened to the discussion here,” she said.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to continue voting on more than 300 amendments to the immigration bill throughout the week.