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CROWLEY (on-camera): Effective immediately, U.S. customs and border protection agents will have real-time updates to the student visa status of every foreign student entering the U.S. Authorities allege two of the three people suspected of hiding evidence for the accused bomber were in violation of their student visa requirements.
Authorities say one of them went to Kazakhstan in December but was allowed reentry to the U.S. in January because customs officers didn't have access to the information. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee tells CNN, quote, "This represents a serious hole in our national security." Does it?
Joining me now is the number two Democrat in the Senate, Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois. Thank you, senator, for being here. When you look at the last kind of three weeks of information and you've heard everything from the FBI drops the ball, here's a huge hole, why did this happen, what are your questions?
When you look at the totality of what we know so far, what are your questions about how the U.S. intelligence agencies and, of course, law enforcement agencies reacted both before and after the bombing?
DURBIN: Candy, here's what I know. We're going to have a thorough investigation. We're going to try to determine whether there's more we could have done to protect America and to have thwarted these terrorists before they acted. I expect that to go on for a period of time.
CROWLEY: Sure. But is there something that troubled you -- is there anything in particular that you look at and think, whew, we've got to get to the bottom of that?
DURBIN: Yes. I can tell you what troubles me. The current immigration system in America is broken down. What we've got to do is change it. I've been sitting for more than three months with a bipartisan group of senators talking about a variety of issues, including making America safer.
The immigration reform bill that will start this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee is a bill that will make this a stronger nation, not just at the border with Mexico, and will strengthen that, but also the very points you made in the lead-in, that we need to track the visas coming into the United States, the visitor visas, the student visas, so that we know not only when they arrive but when they leave.
And to make sure that we enforce that system by having coordination between the different branches of government. That is not working today. We need immigration reform to make that work.
CROWLEY: Why isn't it working? When I first heard this story that said, ok, from here on out, customs officials must check and will be allowed to check the student visa status of the people trying to come in, I'm thinking, isn't that what customs is for? Aren't they supposed to be doing that?
It is incomprehensible, I think, to people that that information is available, and yet, the very people at the front lines who say, yes, come on in or hang on a second and go to that room, don't have the information they need. And, you know, 9/11 was, you know, more than a decade ago. So, how is that possible?
DURBIN: It's hard to believe 12 years after 9/11 we're having this conversation, but you put your finger on it. There is not enough coordination between these different agencies so that we know someone should not have been re-admitted to the United States. Our bill addresses that directly. We have up to 11 million people coming forward to register.
So, we know who they are. And that is going to make us more secure. I mentioned the border security. We're also dealing with this whole exit/entry visa issue. And we're having verification in the workplace. At the end of the day, immigration reform starts to do things that should have been done long ago and makes it an absolute priority of this government.
CROWLEY: I want to play you something that one of your fellow Gang of Eight members put together this immigration reform bill that's going to get marked up in Senate Judiciary Committee. This is Marco Rubio and something he had to say about the bill and the need to further enhance border security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOICE OF MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: This bill will not pass the House. And quite frankly, I think may struggle to pass the Senate if it doesn't deal with that issue. So, we've got some work to do on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: So, basically, what he's saying is the bill as is might be in trouble in the Senate won't pass the House. Is that kind of thing helpful as you all sort of move forward trying to bring your colleagues on board?
DURBIN: I'm glad that Marco Rubio was part of this dialogue and this negotiation. I can tell you at the end of the day that there were parts of it he didn't care for, parts of it I didn't care for. We reached a compromise, which is the nature of politics if it's going to be successful. I'm sure that Senator Rubio feels as I do. We have the basics here.
Are there elements where we might see some improvement? Of course. But we've got to really stand by the basic agreement. I have friends of mine, incidentally, who look at it from the viewpoint of Democrats and from the left and say, there are things we'd like to see changed in it too, but we've got to basically stick to the standard of what we've established, what we've agreed to over the last three months.
CROWLEY: So, let me ask you about something that is going to come up, and that is a push by the LGBT community, lesbian and gay community, saying, you need in the idea of bringing partners over, once the partner is in the U.S. or is an American citizen, that that right needs to be expanded to same-sex couples.
We're told that Senator Leahy probably will bring that up as an amendment to the bill in committee. Is that going to happen? Are you going to support it?
DURBIN: Well, I'm a co-sponsor of that measure that Senator Leahy has offered as free standing legislation. The senator will have to decide whether to offer it in his own committee, where he chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. I happen to believe that it's consistent with the position we should have marriage equality, and therefore, recognize marriages between people from the same gender.
Now, this is a hot issue. It's a contentious issue. If we can find a way through this to protect that basic right of an individual and still pass immigration reform, that's what I want to achieve. Can I add a footnote here?
DURBIN: The Supreme Court has taken up DOMA.
DURBIN: And that decision on DOMA may preclude this whole conversation. They may help us reach the right place in this whole conversation.
CROWLEY: Sen. Rubio among others has suggested that if this is an amendment to immigration reform, it will tank reform. As I understand it, the eight of you have agreed to kind of stick together and be against anything that might upset what you hope will be a coalition for passage. So, you're now talking about free standing legislation, which is different than an amendment. Is that the way to go?
DURBIN: Well, let me just say, we did not have a specific agreement among the eight of us about this particular issue as to whether --
CROWLEY: So, you would vote against the other?
DURBIN: Well, I would just say that I support this, and I hope that we can find a way through it that preserves immigration reform. We have two very important issues before us here. I hope we can get them both done. We may face a choice at some point in the future.
CROWLEY: And let me ask you just as a final question. Gun control, we saw Senator Harry Reid bring it off the Senate floor when it was defeated. We've seen the NRA down -- having its national convention in celebration of that, in part. Can you tell me where, as the number two Democrat in the Senate, the guy who counts votes, do you foresee gun control resurfacing on the Senate floor? This year.
DURBIN: I hope that we'll bring this measure up again. The Manchin/Toomey bipartisan approach for universal background check to keep the guns out of the hands of convicted felons and people so mentally unstable they shouldn't own them is still sound policy. Now, the National Rifle Association can go to Texas and celebrate defeating that measure, but they certainly shouldn't celebrate when they look at the carnage that takes place virtually every day in America because convicted felons have guns.
We stand with law enforcement. We believe this measure should be brought to the floor again. Senator Reid has put it in a procedural position where it can be called on a moment's notice. What we need to see is a change in political sentiment within the Senate. We need to pick up five more votes, and that's quite a task, I might add, as whip in the Senate, but we can do this. I hope the American people don't give up. I know the president hasn't given up.
CROWLEY: So, you're basically counting on public pressure on those who voted against it so that you couldn't get a bill passed, essentially. Thank you so much, senator.
DURBIN: Listen, the American public -- thank you.
CROWLEY: Go ahead, Sen. Durbin. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go ahead and finish that last thought.
DURBIN: No. I was just saying that the American public opinion is so overwhelming. It's not a matter of pressure. It's a matter of individual senators understanding their responsibility to make this a safer nation.
CROWLEY: OK. Thank you so much. Senator Dick Durbin, good to have you on.
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