- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The Senate is expected to approve a bill soon after reconvening that would make federal agencies share data on visa-holders' movements and tighten visa applications reforms widely supported after the September 11 attacks.
But the measure won't include an extension of amnesty to those who have overstayed their visas, which backers have tried to attach to the pending bill.
The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, Congress' response to the terrorist attacks, would require federal agencies to share information through a common computer system so they can better track immigrants' movements. Three of the 19 air pirates in the attacks had overstayed their visas, and lawmakers said they needed to do what they could to crack down.
"Time's a-wasting here, and if somebody gets into this country and engages in an act of terrorism we could have stopped, the people who are slowing this legislation down are certainly going to have to deal with that," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and one of the bill's sponsors. The other sponsors are: Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat; and Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican.
The bill cleared the House by voice vote and was poised to pass the Senate before adjournment in December, but Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, protested, arguing the bill was too big a matter to be considered so quickly.
A spokesman said Mr. Byrd doesn't object to the bill's substance, and senators and aides from both parties said they will push to move the bill once they return to Washington.
"I don't know of any reason why we shouldn't be able to get it through quickly," Mr. Kyl said.
The bill would reduce the number of visas issued to visitors from countries that sponsor terrorism, tighten the requirements on those entering on student visas and require federal agencies to share information through a common computer system.
It also authorizes pay raises for Immigration and Naturalization Service border inspectors and funding to hire 600 new customs and INS inspectors and investigators.
The bill was "pre-conferenced," meaning leaders from the House and Senate agreed on the specific language in it.
But in order to get House agreement, Senators had to drop language that would have extended amnesty to immigrants who have overstayed their visas and are seeking permanent resident status, or green cards.
Until April 2001, those who had overstayed their visas were allowed to remain in the country and pay penalties while applying for their green cards. But since the amnesty expired, applicants must return home and wait out a penalty period before qualifying for green cards.
The measure's supporters argue that the last amnesty's provisions were not clear, so many immigrants were not able to take advantage. They also say the current law unfairly penalizes those who return home, and that it splits families.
"It's a perennial issue. It just keeps coming back, I think, because the issue makes sense," said Angela Kelley, policy director for the National Immigration Forum.
But opponents say repeated amnesties encourage others to overstay visas.
"How many times are we going to fight this?" asks Dan Stein, executive director of Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It's clearly not consistent with national security or border integrity. It undermines incentives to obey immigration laws, and it rewards lawbreakers."
The extension has passed the Senate and is supported by the Bush administration, but senators say House leaders must resolve the issue for it to go forward.

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