Sessions Cries Foul, Escalating Battle over Biometrics

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on May 20, 2013

The battle over biometrics intensified Monday at the Senate Judiciary Committee as Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions angrily said a 2009 DHS study showed it is feasible to use biometrics to confirm the departure of temporary visa holders from U.S. airports.

Sessions said the report, which he first learned about last Friday, "completely rejects" claims by some committee members that a biometric system is not available because of technical problems and affordability issues. He said a system could be in place in a short time and at a reasonable cost.

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"There's no mystery about this," he said. "It seems to me that whenever you produce anything that will actually work, the people involved in pushing for immigration liberality oppose it."

Sessions accused Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano of "undermining the law" that Congress passed in 1996 to mandate a biometric entry/exit system for temporary visitors to the United States.

Then Sessions broadened his attack to include the bipartisan group of senators who had produced the bill that is now before the committee. He did not name the group, which is commonly known as "The Gang of Eight".

Said Sessions: "They've been meeting in secret with the immigration lawyers of America, who want more bases to confuse and delay plain, simple deportation proceedings. They've been meeting with airlines. They've been meeting with big business. They've been meeting with agribusiness. They've been meeting with La Raza and other groups that have special interests."

As Sessions spoke, California Democrat Diane Feinstein said, "It's just not true." Feinstein later said that while she shared Sessions' frustration with the prolonged failure to implement a biometric system, she favored an amendment by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch to provide for incremental implementation of a biometric system.

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake also supported the Hatch amendment, calling it "a more aggressive approach than we've taken since 1996."

The Hatch amendment passed on a 13-5 vote.

Earlier in the morning, a straight party-line vote defeated a Sessions amendment to deny access to the Earned Income Tax Credit to persons who are currently in the country illegally but who would become registered provisional immigrants (RPI) under the bill proposed by the Gang of Eight.

Before the vote, Sessions said it would test claims by the bill's sponsors that RPIs would not receive federal benefits. "But this would grant such benefits to millions and be a substantial burden on our country's finances at a time when we're desperately trying to reduce our deficits and find ways to save money," he said.

The committee's eight Republicans voted for the Sessions amendment, while the 10 Democrats voted against it. Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono based her opposition on the fact that many of the children of illegal immigrants are U.S. citizens. If the amendment were to become law, she said, "We are going to be particularly harming U.S. children of parents who have RPI status."