Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) got considerable agreement this morning with his claim that Congress should press for completion of the entry/exit system that it ordered in 1996 to track those who overstay their visas. But he failed to win enough votes for his proposal to amend the immigration bill by requiring that the system be up and running at U.S. ports of entry before illegal immigrants could be given provisional legal status.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn supported the amendment, saying failure to install the biometric system "could lead some people to conclude that this bill is designed to fail" the test of fixing the nation's immigration system. California Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein expressed frustration that although Congress had "pushed and shoved toward a biometric system" the Department of Homeland Security had been unable to fulfill the 1996 mandate.
But New York Democrat Charles Schumer opposed the amendment as impractical and too expensive. He said that the Gang of Eight bill would improve the current tracking system while avoiding the estimated $25 billion cost for a biometric system that might take another 10 years to develop. That observation prompted Iowa Republican Charles Grassley to suggest that the $25 billion figure had been invented in order to stop development of the system. "I've heard it from the airlines, and the airlines don't want this and that's why you get this figure of $25 billion", said Grassley.
After the Sessions amendment was voted down by a vote of 12-6, Feinstein suggested that once the bill reaches the Senate floor, a provision could be added to require that development of such a biometric system continue, in the hope that technological advances will bring the price down.
Sessions received far less support for an amendment that proposed a reduction of legal immigration from the levels anticipated in the reform bill. He claimed that the bill would increase the number of green cards issued, which is currently running at about one million persons per year, to an average of about three million per year for the next decade. Sessions claimed that such a dramatic increase in the size of the workforce would overwhelm the capacity of the economy to create new jobs.
"I think we need to ask ourselves, what will that do to working Americans", Sessions said. But his amendments went down on a vote of 17-1. Texas Republican Ted Cruz explained his "no" vote by saying he is "a full-throated advocate of legal immigration" who wants to expand legal immigration even more. "We need to be a nation that doesn't just welcome, but celebrates legal immigration," Cruz said.