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Senate committee votes in favor of fingerprinting foreign travelers at US airports

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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today in favor of an amendment to an immigration reform bill that would require officials at US airports to collect fingerprints or hand prints of all foreign travelers leaving the country. The amendment, which was proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), passed 13-5, along with another amendment from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), calling for a study on the costs of implementing such a fingerprinting system.

Hatch's amendment is a compromise taken from an earlier, rejected proposal that would have had the Department of Homeland Security implement a more widespread biometric tracking program across all land and sea ports. Hatch's new compromise would implement a similar program, but it would be under the control of the US Department of Transportation, and would take place in three phases.

Expands to all "major sea and land entry and exit points."

In the first phase, the 10 busiest US international airports would begin collecting such biometric data within two years of the larger bill's passage by the full Congress, which is still far from certain. In the second phase, six years after the bill's passage, the biometric data collection program would be expanded to the Federal Aviation Administration's "core" 30 US international airports. In the third and final phase, the US Secretary of Transportation, head of the Transportation Department, would also submit a plan describing how to expand the program to all "major sea and land entry and exit points."

The proposal is still far from law: the Senate Judiciary Committee first has to vote to pass the full bill, including Hatch's amendment, on to the full Senate floor — which it is aiming to do by Wednesday. Then, after it passes the full Senate, the House must vote in favor of the immigration reform bill and the President needs to sign it. But with President Obama openly indicating immigration reform is a top priority, it seems likelier than not that a bill will get to his desk at some point this year, and with it, some type of mandatory new biometrics program.