- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft would have the power to allow some legal immigrants who were deported for felony convictions to be readmitted to the United States under a bill that cleared the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.
The bill would also give the attorney general discretion to waive deportation for future permanent legal residents convicted of certain felonies.
The measure, a compromise between committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, and Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, passed despite the opposition of most Republicans, who are a majority on the committee.
The final vote was 18-15, with all 13 Democrats present voting for it, joined by five Republicans. Fifteen Republicans voted against it.
The proposal would apply to those convicted of violent felonies like assault, arson and robbery who are sentenced to less than two years in prison, and those convicted of nonviolent felonies like child pornography, alien smuggling and document fraud who are sentenced to less than four years.
It also exempts those brought here before they were 10 years old, with proponents arguing those immigrants have never known the country they are being deported to. The bill 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.
Under current law, written in 1996, any green-card holder sentenced to a year or more for a felony is automatically deportable, with no discretion for a waiver.
An amendment offered to the bill by Darrell Issa, California Republican, requires that the attorney general or one of his deputies sign off on every case and that the Justice Department report to Congress each year on who was granted a deportation waiver.
The bill gives those who have already been deported one year to apply for readmittance. Mr. Frank said that means they will have to apply on the watch of Mr. Ashcroft, who he said is unlikely to apply the rule liberally.
"I do not think we have to worry that John Ashcroft and his deputies will abuse the authority," Mr. Frank said.
The bill would expire after three years, but opponents said temporary immigration-relief measures have a way of becoming permanent and that administrations often ignore congressional demands for reports.
"How do we explain to victims why we let these criminals remain in the country or be readmitted?" asked Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and one of the chief architects of the 1996 law.
He said the bill would apply to those whose crimes went far beyond low-level drug use, and would include those who are convicted of smuggling immigrants, child pornography or forging documents.
Immigration-reform advocates said that before the law changed in 1996 there were so many applications for waivers that the Justice Department in essence rubber-stamped them. When the new law was enacted, criminal deportations jumped from 36,000 in 1996 to 69,000 in 2000.
Those advocating yesterday's bill said that increase included some that the law simply never intended to target.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, pointed to a current case in Houston in which a man is facing deportation for an old sexual-abuse conviction.
She said that stemmed from him impregnating a 13-year-old, who later became his wife. Mrs. Jackson Lee said the man has gone on to hold a good job and not have any major run-ins with the law.
But Mr. Smith said those cases are best handled not by the attorney general but by individual claims bills, which grant relief to specific people.

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