- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

A bill to tighten the screening of legal immigrants to the United States and to restrict student visas stalled in the Senate yesterday, and Congress adjourned without passing any immigration reform in the wake of September 11.

Reform legislation passed the House by voice vote Wednesday, but when a senator tried to raise the bill yesterday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, objected.

Under special procedures adopted so that members could go home for the holidays, the Senate was considering only bills that had no objections.

A spokesman for Mr. Byrd said the measure is too complicated to pass without more examination.

"He wants to make sure that it has ample scrutiny and evaluation by committees and the full Senate," said Tom Gavin.

Known as the border-security bill, it would have established a national computer system to monitor visa applications and tighten the regulations on applications issued, particularly for people coming from countries that sponsor terrorism.

It also would:

•Require planes and ships arriving from overseas to provide passenger lists to immigration officials before landing or docking.

•Authorize funding for more Immigration and Naturalization Service and Customs officers, and for more training.

•Require noncitizens' identifying documents such as visas to include fingerprints and other biometric data.

The bill's failure this year disappointed those who wanted immigration curbs.

"What have we done to secure our own border in those 100 days? What have we done to make sure that we don't have people like these coming into the United States? The answer to that question is essentially nothing. Nothing of significance has been passed by this Congress to protect our borders," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Tancredo is chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, about 50 lawmakers from both parties and from 26 states who have banded together to push for tighter borders and an overhaul of the INS.

Mr. Tancredo yesterday introduced a bill that would create a unified Border Security Agency to combine the border-control functions of the INS, the Customs Service, the State Department and the Coast Guard.

Even though the caucus hasn't managed to pass any legislation tightening immigration laws after September 11, Mr. Tancredo said, it had one success. The caucus was instrumental in blocking an effort to extend a provision that allowed those in the United States illegally to pay fines and apply for visas from here, rather than returning home to apply, where applications can take years to process.

The provision, one in a series of occasional amnesties, expired in April, and its backers had tried to extend it as part of the border-security bill.

But it was stricken after Mr. Tancredo and other members of the caucus objected.

"If they knew amnesty was waiting in the wings down the road, the floodgates would be even bigger," said Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia independent, who is a member of the caucus.

That left the provision's supporters angry, arguing that their agreement with the president and House leadership had been broken.

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