- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

The Senate again will take up immigration-reform legislation in the coming weeks with an eye toward at least beefing up border security before the fall elections.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, set a new deadline of Memorial Day to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, Senate Republican leadership aides said yesterday.

Before then, Mr. Frist and other Republicans want to approve immediate spending to improve border security. That money would pay for additional Border Patrol agents, unmanned surveillance vehicles and targeted fencing.

Mr. Frist previously set a deadline of two weeks ago for passing an immigration-reform bill, but it stalled under intense disagreement over several provisions in a Senate proposal that both sides initially hailed as a “breakthrough” compromise.

Conservatives said the bill granted amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens already in this country because it would provide most with a direct path to citizenship. Some said the federal government must rebuild its credibility by securing the border before addressing guest-worker provisions or any direct paths to citizenship for aliens who already have broken U.S. laws.

“The American people are very tolerant and forgiving. But I don’t think they will be forgiving if the Congress passes something to fool them again into thinking we’re actually serious about controlling our borders and illegal immigration,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said yesterday.

“There is a growing consensus that we must secure our borders, but the problem is that the ‘compromise’ bill’s security provisions are only a promise at this point,” he said. “No money has actually been committed to create the 10,000 or so new Border Patrol agents we need, to create the technology, the ground sensors, the unmanned aerial vehicles we need in order to create a virtual wall to protect our borders.”

Union officials and other liberals opposed the legislation because they feared that the guest-worker program would flood the job market with cheap labor.

Senate Republicans accused Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Democratic leaders of essentially killing the legislation by refusing to allow widely supported amendments. One of those would have barred from U.S. citizenship any illegal alien who has been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors, or refused a court order to leave the country.

The reason, they said, is that Democrats want to deny the Republican-led Congress the significant victory of passing meaningful immigration-reform legislation during an election year. Both sides agree that if Congress fails to approve immigration reform, Republicans will face dire consequences in the fall elections when the entire House and one-third of the Senate are up for election.

When the Senate adjourned for a two-week Easter recess, no final agreements could be reached and all three Senate proposals — including a bill addressing only border security — failed.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the economic effects of illegal immigration.

Earlier this week, federal agents began what they call a renewed commitment to cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens. More than 1,100 illegals were arrested on administrative immigration charges this week at pallet-manufacturing facilities across the country.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he intends to increase enforcement efforts everywhere.

“We are going to move beyond the current level of activity to a higher level in each month and year to come,” he said.

To pay for the stepped-up enforcement, the department has requested $41 million and 200 more U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) agents for fiscal 2007, which will increase to about 525 the number of ICE agents assigned to track down the 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States.

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