- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

What’s most remarkable about the top Senate Republican priorities for the new congressional session, announced Monday, is what was left out: not one mention of immigration reform. We’re not talking about President Bush’s doomed guest-worker bill. Even the agonizing energy bill made the list at No. 10. One would think that on an issue which unites Republican voters as much as immigration reform, that Republican senators would pay attention. We speak from firsthand experience. No one issue so enflames the passions of our readers, as evidenced by heated letters to the editor, than the country’s backward immigration laws. Have Senate Republicans gone deaf?

One congressman whose ire is certainly aroused is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Last October, the House overwhelmingly passed an intelligence reform bill that included Mr. Sensenbrenner’s tighter border and security provisions, as advised by the September 11 Commission. The Senate, however, stripped its version of immigration reform, forcing Mr. Sensenbrenner to block a final vote on the amended bill in the House. Even as he was pilloried by the newspapers, the pundits and his colleagues as an obstructionist, Mr. Sensenbrenner held his ground, until the White House and Republican leadership promised to address his provisions during the next session. No doubt heartened by their pledge, not to mention his commitment to a good cause, Mr. Sensenbrenner promised to introduce a separate immigration reform bill early this year. Judiciary Committee aides tell us that the chairman plans to do this sometime this week. All well and good, but meaningless if the Senate does not follow.

On all accounts, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s REAL ID Act, with over a hundred co-sponsors, is sound policy long overdue: It would require tighter regulations for obtaining a driver’s license or a non-driver’s alternative; reform the nation’s asylum laws to help prevent terrorists from abusing the system; speed construction on the Otay Mesa security fence along the California-Mexican border; and strengthen alien-removal laws to more quickly deport alien terrorists residing in the United States. At a press conference on Dec. 8, Mr. Sensenbrenner said, “What we’re attempting to do with these provisions is to root out the bad apples before they do spoil the barrel, meaning killing hundreds of us.” True enough. Nearly every one of the bill’s provisions would address loopholes exploited by the September 11 hijackers.

At their annual retreat later this week House Republicans have a chance to place immigration reform high on their list of priorities for the new session — and for the sake of the nation, we trust they will. Yet the difference in priorities between the Republican leadership on the Hill is unsettling. If Republicans aren’t united on how to best protect the homeland, then it won’t take the Democrats long to figure out that they should be.

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