WASHINGTON (AP) - A top Republican senator asked the Obama administration Thursday to explain how a student from Kazakhstan charged with trying to help get rid of evidence for one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects managed to enter the country without a valid student visa.
In a three-page letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked for additional details about the student visa applications for Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, the college roommates from Kazakhstan charged with obstruction of justice in the April 15 bombings, and how Tazhayakov was allowed to re-enter the United States in January.
Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev, both 19, and a third student - all friends and classmates of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - were arrested Wednesday in Massachusetts. They were accused of helping after the attacks to remove a laptop and backpack from the Tsarnaev's dormitory room before the FBI searched it. Robel Phillipos, 19, was arrested and charged with willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation.
The disclosure that Tazhayakov was allowed into the country without a valid visa was another instance of possible lapses by the U.S. government in the months before the bombings. Earlier this week the Obama administration announced an internal review of how sensitive information was shared among law enforcement and intelligence agencies and whether the government could have prevented or disrupted the attack. Republican lawmakers have promised oversight hearings, the first of which is scheduled next week.
Tazhayakov was a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth when he left the country in December. In early January, his student visa status was terminated because he was academically dismissed by the university.
A federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the information about Tazhayakov's status was in the Homeland Security Department's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, called SEVIS, when he arrived in January. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the student's immigration history.
Peter Boogaard, a DHS spokesman, said Wednesday that when Tazhayakov arrived in January Customs and Border Protection had not been alerted that he was no longer a student. Boogaard said the department was working on a fix to the student visa system that will ensure that CBP has access to all relevant student visa information.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the department to answer nine questions about what happened in this case, including what information CBP had access to and what safeguards are in place to ensure foreign students are complying with visa rules.
"These clear gaps in our current immigration system are particularly troubling at a time when the committee is considering a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform," Grassley wrote.