- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Illegal aliens who have been caught and ordered deported, but who are currently defying that order, could be allowed to stay and even get on a path to citizenship under the Senate immigration bill.

They are known as “alien absconders” for having ignored the law or been deported and re-entered the country illegally. There were more than 623,000 fugitive aliens, according to a March report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General — up more than 200,000 since 2003.

Under the Senate bill, if they don’t have a major felony or three misdemeanors on their records, they could be legalized through a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security.

“What is the message we send about the rule of law in America when Congress won’t even categorically prohibit rewarding those illegal immigrants who have defied lawful orders?” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who last night introduced an amendment to bar those aliens from gaining amnesty from deportation.

Mr. Cornyn said Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff has said illegal aliens who are defying U.S. court orders do not deserve legalization but said those drafting the bill ignored Mr. Chertoff “in an effort to accommodate certain advocacy groups.”

A DHS official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Chertoff agrees that “fugitive aliens should not be able to regularize.”

Still, the official said, all sides worked together on the compromise, and Mr. Chertoff’s position on fugitive aliens “does not detract from the secretary’s view that the core of this bill is the sweet spot.”

A vote is expected today on the amendment.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said the amendment could undo some key legal protections established by appellate courts.

“There’s real consequences for due process; there’s real consequences for equal protection,” Mr. Menendez said.

DHS has been falling behind in going after alien absconders, according to the inspector general’s report. The backlog of fugitive aliens increased an average of 51,228 each year over a four-year period ending September 2005, and from October 2005 to August 2006, the number jumped by 86,648.

Mr. Cornyn’s amendment also would prevent terror suspects, gang members, sex offenders and those convicted of felony drunken driving from remaining and taking part in the legalization program. The Texan said he assumed those were just technical oversights when the final version of the bill was drafted.

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