- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Some legal immigrants to the United States who have been deported in the past six years for aggravated felonies will be allowed to apply for re-entry under a bill pending before the House Judiciary Committee today.
Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, has struck a deal with the bill's sponsor, Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, that would allow those former alien residents to apply to re-enter the United States under a new set of rules to be written by the Justice Department.
The bill also would allow future felons to ask the Justice Department for a "cancellation of removal" order that would stop their deportation if their sentence is less than two years for violent felonies and less than four years for nonviolent felonies.
The proposal would apply to those convicted of assault, arson and robbery who are sentenced to less than two years in prison, and those convicted of child pornography, alien smuggling and document fraud who are sentenced to less than four years. It maintains a ban on petitions for anyone convicted of terrorism-related offenses, as well as those found guilty of murder, rape or child sex abuse.
"Creating a process to allow convicted and deported aggravated felons back into the country is unprecedented," said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, who wrote a letter urging his colleagues on the committee to oppose the bill. "This committee should not make it easier for drug traffickers and drug smugglers to stay in our country."
But Mr. Sensenbrenner's spokesman said the bill represented a good compromise between Mr. Frank's original bill and the existing law.
"It keeps the beneficial reforms from the 1996 law while letting a select group of legal permanent residents request discretionary relief from an immigration judge," spokesman Jeff Lungren said.
The committee has a bill-writing session scheduled for today, and the immigration proposal is on the agenda.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee from Texas, the top Democrat on the panel's immigration and claims subcommittee, said the bill simply gives applicants a chance to make their case.
"It allows for an application if they were bad actors in their country, you can be sure they won't be admitted," she said.
The bill has residency requirements for how long a felon must have lived in the United States before being eligible to petition an immigration judge for permission to remain.
It also allows anyone who was brought to the country under the age of 10 to make a petition, because, Mrs. Jackson-Lee said, those persons would otherwise be returned to a country with which they are unfamiliar.
Under the law, green-card holders legal permanent residents who haven't attained citizenship who are convicted of aggravated felonies are subject to deportation once they serve out their sentence.
They can apply for a "cancellation of removal," though. Before 1996, one had only to show that his sentence for an aggravated felony did not exceed five years and that a relative would suffer hardship if he was deported. A 1996 law tightened the rules, requiring that a petitioner's sentence not exceed one year and proof that a relative would suffer exceptional hardship.
The INS deported 71,346 criminal aliens in fiscal year 2001, out of a total of 176,549 deportations, but did not have a breakdown of how many were green-card holders.
Mrs. Jackson-Lee said lawmakers realized soon after its passage that the 1996 law went too far.
"These individuals who were deported their crimes were not offenses that were heinous or horrific," she said, while pointing out that the bill does not affect terrorism-related offenders.
But immigration reform groups say that before 1996 there were so many applications for cancellation that it amounted to a rubber stamp, with most applications approved pro forma.
"We expect those abuses to happen again," said Mr. Smith, who was chairman of the immigration subcommittee when the 1996 law was passed. He said Mr. Sensenbrenner's compromise is better than Mr. Frank's bill, but likened it to "saying a flat tire is better than no tire at all neither one is worth much for the long haul."
The immigration panel's current chairman, Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican, said he was still studying the compromise but that he hasn't seen any reason to undo the 1996 law.
"I think the act of 1996 is one on which we should pin our policies on all these matters," he said. "I'm not ready to puncture holes in it."
The bill's opponents say there are few cases of true hardship and that special legislation can handle those cases.

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