- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

The Senate this week will begin considering the $82 billion supplemental appropriations bill — and is likely to leave in legislative limbo immigration-enforcement provisions attached to the House version.

The Real ID bill, authored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, would require state motor vehicle departments to verify an applicant’s identity and legal right to be in the country before issuing a driver’s license.

States would not be forced to comply, but if they did not within three years, their driver’s licenses would cease to be federally recognized for identity purposes and could not be used to board planes or access federal buildings.

Supporters say the bill is essential to make it more difficult for would-be terrorists to obtain federally recognized identity documents. Critics say that with an estimated 6 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the country, the public safety cost of denying them driver’s licenses — and therefore driving tests and car insurance — is not worth the benefits.

The Real ID bill was attached last month to the House version of the supplemental appropriation, which allocates money for the U.S. military in Iraq, the war on terrorism and tsunami relief.

But a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer said the provisions will not appear in the Senate version of the bill, which will be marked up by the committee tomorrow.

“The chairman doesn’t see it as the role of appropriators to do this kind of legislation,” the staffer said on the condition of anonymity.

Amy Call, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said that even though the provisions would not be in the bill when it comes out of committee, “the issue could come up on the Senate floor” next week, when the bill will be debated by the whole chamber.

But Senate leaders fret that allowing such an amendment would open the floodgates for immigration-related amendments that might bog down the appropriations bill.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, indicated last week that he would introduce his “Ag Jobs” bill as an amendment to the supplemental if the Real ID legislation was put forward. His bill would provide a one-time amnesty for agricultural workers here illegally and reform the system for admitting them in the future, and has attracted criticism from those who say that amnesties only encourage illegal immigration.

At least a half-dozen other immigration-reform bills either have been proposed or are being drafted, including one giving shape to President Bush’s guest-worker plan.

“Once you open the door like that, there are a number of different bills out there that could be introduced” as amendments, said Don Stewart, communications director for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. Mr. Cornyn is a member of the Senate Judiciary immigration, border security and citizenship subcommittee.

Mr. Stewart said the subcommittee had only just begun holding hearings on immigration reform.

“You’d basically start a debate on the whole immigration issue, which, frankly, the Senate isn’t ready for yet,” he said.

Miss Call said Mr. Frist would “do what’s needed” to ensure the appropriations bill passed “in a timely enough fashion so that the money gets where it needs to go by the time it needs to be there.”

She wouldn’t comment on whether that might include passing the legislation without any immigration-related provisions.

“Discussions are ongoing about how to proceed,” she said. “We hope to be able to reach a compromise between members on this issue.”

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