WASHINGTON — Citing problems exposed by the Boston Marathon bombings, senators weighing amendments to a sweeping immigration bill agreed Tuesday to boost security provisions around student visas.
The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed by voice vote to an amendment by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa meant to ensure that border patrol agents at U.S. ports of entry have access to information on the status of student visas.
The committee action follows recent revelations that a student from Kazakhstan accused of hiding evidence for one of the Boston bombing suspects was allowed to return to the U.S. in January without a valid student visa.
The student visa for Azamat Tazhayakov had been terminated when he arrived in New York on Jan. 20. But the border agent in the airport did not have access to the information in the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, called SEVIS.
Grassley's amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security to certify that data from SEVIS is transferred into the databases used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at U.S. ports of entry. If that is not done within 120 days of enactment, issuing of student visas would be suspended.
"This will plug a loophole in terms of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., an author of the immigration bill. "It really strengthens the bill and shows that our bill ... is going to make things better in terms of terrorism."
The committee also agreed to a second Grassley amendment aimed at cracking down on fraud in the student visa program.