- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

The immigration security provisions stripped out of the intelligence overhaul bill will be introduced as a separate bill on the first day of the next Congress, House leaders promised yesterday, and will be their first priority for passage.

“We’re doing this to stop the next terrorists and to take necessary steps to protect the American people,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. said. “The bill will address the three most critical elements, including real driver’s license reform, tightening our asylum laws to stop exploitation by terrorists, and finishing the fence on California’s border with Mexico.”

The provisions are expected to be easily approved in the House but face uncertain opposition in the Senate. The Bush administration has quibbled with some of the crackdowns on illegal immigrants supported by the House but President Bush promised members of Congress in a letter this week that he will work with them “early in the next session” to enact some of the scrapped provisions.

A primary focus of the envisioned immigration security bill will be creating stiffer federal standards for identification documents, such as driver’s licenses, if they are to be considered valid for boarding airplanes.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said the new legislation would not, however, interfere with states’ rights.

“States would have their ability to issue a driver’s license to whomever they want,” he said. “All we said is to be able to use that driver’s license for a federal ID — to be able to get on an airplane — that it would have to meet certain standards.”

Those new standards would impose “tough rules for confirming identity” for licenses allowed to be used as a federal ID, Mr. Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, said. They would also require that licenses for foreign visitors expire on the same date that their visas expire.

The envisioned bill also would reform the country’s asylum laws that allow foreigners to arrive here and claim protections without having to prove persecution in their homeland.

“We will ensure that terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, no longer receive a free pass to move around America’s communities when they show up at our gates claiming asylum,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “We will end judge-imposed presumptions that benefit suspected terrorists so that we stop providing a safe haven to some of the worst people on earth.”

The third major component of the envisioned bill would be finishing the Otay Mesa fence on the California-Mexico border.

A major obstacle to finishing the fence has been fear among environmentalists and Democrats that the construction of a new fence would interfere with a rare native desert grass that grows there.

“The maritime succulent scrub is more likely to flourish if it’s no longer trampled under the feet of hundreds of illegal aliens every night,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “Let’s make Southern California’s environment safe by completing the fence and restoring the habitat on both sides of it.”

The envisioned immigration security bill is expected to move quickly through the House where these provisions already had been approved in an earlier version of the intelligence bill. In the Senate, it will likely face stiffer opposition.

“Of course we’ll review whatever the House sends the Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s spokeswoman Amy Call.

The idea of beefing up border security, however, was applauded yesterday by senators debating the intelligence bill.

“We can never assure the American people that they are safe from terrorists if our borders are penetrated as they are today by people who can easily come across illegally,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the intelligence overhaul bill, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said: “I don’t think we should fool ourselves to think that we’ve actually finished the job.”

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, signaled that he would support immigration reforms.

“The fact is that this [intelligence] bill is a hodgepodge of empty border security promises that the administration has no intention of funding, and I’m certainly concerned about that,” he said. “And that will only encourage the kind of illegal immigration that leaves our country wide open to terrorists.”

Mr. Byrd also said Mr. Bush had urged the passage of the intelligence bill even without the immigration provisions that Mr. Sensenbrenner wanted in it.

“President Bush had the opportunity to support Congressman Sensenbrenner and insist on tougher immigration reforms in this bill,” he said. “But the president welshed.”

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