- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

The ability of a terrorist like Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to move freely in the country should have signaled that something was terribly wrong with our immigration system. It didn’t, and eight years later 19 terrorists exploited the same disintegrating system, finishing Yousef’s previous work. It is now three years and three months since September 11, and still our immigration-control system is in tatters. Congress has delayed serious immigration reform long enough. The next Congress must address this issue first before moving on to President Bush’s other work-related immigration objectives.

During the intelligence bill debate, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner was pummeled by both his congressional colleagues and the press for blocking a vote on the bill because it failed to address immigration reform. Although Mr. Sensenbrenner’s opposition was eventually overcome, he isn’t giving up the fight. Yesterday, at a Capitol Hill news conference, Mr. Sensenbrenner promised to “introduce legislation on the first day of 109th Congress, January 4th, to place into law the key provisions that were stripped from the conference report on the intelligence bill.”

We applaud Mr. Sensenbrenner’s determination to stick to his guns. As he outlined during the news conference, any serious immigration reform must address three key failures of current policy. First, reform the 51 variant ways someone can get a driver’s license in this country. The September 11 commission found that all but one of the hijackers had acquired some form of U.S. identification, in many cases by fraudulent means. Yet the intelligence bill failed to address this fatal loophole. Second, Congress must focus on tightening the nation’s asylum laws, which historically favor asylum seekers, many suspected terrorists. Yousef himself was granted asylum despite his known terrorist ties. Finally, Congress needs to get serious about securing our borders, which is why the chairman stressed completing the Otay Mesa fence along the California-Mexican border. All of these are sober solutions for an immigration policy that for too long has been abused and exploited by declared enemies of America, and others.

But it would be a fatal mistake for the White House to try to meld Mr. Sensenbrenner’s proposals to Mr. Bush’s guest worker program for illegal aliens. Aligning the two together on the false premise that both fall under the wide scope of immigration fails to account for the reality that one deals with workers, the other with security. More to the point, the president’s guest worker program is unlikely to pass the Republican House even with Mr. Sensenbrenner’s provisions. Now that this Congress believes it has dealt with the failure of the intelligence community to stop the September 11 terrorists (and we reserve judgment on that matter), the next Congress must actually solve the problem of how they got here in the first place.

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