WASHINGTON – The Senate’s proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws will eliminate post September 11 legislation that required a visa entry and exit system to use fingerprints or eye scans and will instead rely on names and dates of birth for border security.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) lead the fight to keep the biometric requirements during the massive bill’s consideration Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, arguing that a system using biographic information invites fraud and will not accurately track who comes into the country and who is overstaying their visa.
“If we are going to ask the American people to trust us, we should comply with the law we have rather than weaken it,” Sessions said. “The intent of Congress was crystal clear.”
The biometric system was a key recommendation of the 911 Commission, but the panel voted to kill the law in a mostly party line vote of 12 to 6 with Democrats and two Republicans voting against it and the rest of the Republicans voting to support it.
“This is one reason the American people have so little confidence in any promises we make,” Sessions said. “We promised to fix enforcement issues. And we haven’t fulfilled that.”
Sessions said biometric information, specifically fingerprints and the iris, are virtually impossible to forge, but that a person’s name could be misspelled and such a system easily fooled.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) opposed keeping the law intact arguing that a biometric system was too costly, and that using biographic information would be more reliable, including the use of tamper-proof photographs on visa cards.
“It’s harder to change your face than to change a fingerprint,” Schumer said.
Democrats opposed to the 911 law said requiring a biometric system be in place before a “path to citizenship” begins would further delay amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants.
“I don’t think the path to citizenship should be a false promise,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the committee, who argued that Session’s amendment was not “realistic.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) reasoned that if Walt Disney could successfully use biometrics at entrances to Disney World and Disney Land to protect against ticket fraud, it is not an unreasonable expectation that the federal government could develop a similar system.
“If it’s that easy and inexpensive for Walt Disney, it’s good enough for the country,” Cornyn said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was the only Democrat to resist eliminating the law and suggested that it would not be difficult to fool the biographic system if a person changed their eye color with contact lenses or grew a beard.
Feinstein also disagreed with Schumer that the cards could be tamper proof. “I have seen too many fraudulent cards bought for $110. The fraud is enormous,” she said.
But Schumer insisted that the biometric system could be beat because “you can always change the iris of your eyes.”
In the end, Schumer convinced Feinstein to vote against the amendment, assuring her that Democrats would try to amend the bill when it reaches the floor next month to include language allowing that development of a biometric system to continue while the biographic system is put in place.
Tuesday was the second marathon daylong session held by the committee to consider some of the 300 amendments to the immigration bill, which already numbers nearly 900 pages.
So far, the Democratic-controlled committee voted to accept all 24 amendments offered by Democrats, and 13 of 30 amendments offered by Republicans.
The panel did agree to adopt a measure offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would give border patrol agents access to student visa information. The amendment was in response to the Boston Marathon bombing and revelations that the suspects were aided by a student from Kazakhstan who had recently travelled in and out of the U.S. on an expired visa.