- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Senators hope to end a four-month impasse by approving a border security bill early next week, but members on both sides are still considering attaching to it a limited amnesty for illegal aliens.
The Senate floor debate began yesterday morning, an hour after the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration heard from an immigration lawyer and a woman who lost her husband in the September 11 terror attacks. Both of them said the bill is long overdue.
"The delay in passing this legislation is unconscionable," said MaryEllen Salamone, whose husband John died in the attacks in New York. "Members of Congress, you have a responsibility to secure the safety of those you have been elected to represent. You must pass [the bill] and you must pass it now."
The sponsors of the bill Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy from Massachusetts and Dianne Feinstein from California and Republican Sens. Jon Kyl from Arizona and Sam Brownback from Kansas agreed that the bill had been delayed long enough.
Still, one senator, Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said he opposes having the bill bypass committees and go directly to the floor.
"If we forgo a national debate about our border defenses in order to pass legislation through a fleeting window of opportunity, we risk failing to explain and examine important details that could improve the legislation," he told the committee. Mr. Byrd has twice delayed action on the bill, first in December and again last month, and said yesterday he still isn't sure he will support it next week.
But senators said the hearing yesterday and the current floor debate should alleviate his concerns.
The bill would reduce the number of visas issued, tighten requirements on those entering on student visas from states that sponsor terrorism and require federal agencies to share information through a common computer system so they can better track visa holders' movements. Three of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks had overstayed their visas.
Senators will continue the debate Monday, and could vote on the bill Tuesday. A majority of senators are already co-sponsors of the bill, so its passage is almost assured unless someone decides to pursue the amnesty amendment.
The provision would allow some illegal aliens who have overstayed their entry visas or entered the country illegally to apply for legal status. Periodic amnesties like it have been granted in the past.
President Bush has requested it, and aides in both parties said there are members on both sides who are still considering sponsoring the amendment.
But accepting the amendment would mean having to send the bill to a conference with the House. If they don't amend the bill before passing it, the bill would go directly to the president.
The bill's sponsors said they will take the bill with or without the amendment, known as 245(i), the section of immigration law that would be amended.
"I support 245i, it's something we need to do," said Mr. Brownback. "But my priority is to get border security passed and on to the president's desk."
If senators forgo the amnesty debate on this bill, though, they will have to face it soon, Majority Leader Tom Daschle said.
"I know there is opposition I am told on both sides of the aisle," the South Dakota Democrat said on the floor Thursday night. "But we must address the issue. It is an important issue."

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