- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

A key House Republican introduced legislation yesterday to temporarily cut legal immigration to the United States by about 20 percent as part of a broad reform of immigration laws.

Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican, the chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, said government agencies need time to restructure and to catch up with the current backlog of applications.

"We believe we must take a bold step, and for the time being I stress that reduce the number of legal immigrants," Mr. Gekas said.

The bill eliminates several categories of persons eligible for green cards based on their relationship to a U.S. citizen or green-card holder.

It also authorizes the hiring of more border guards and thousands of Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors to go after illegal immigrants and eliminates some of the methods illegal immigrants use to avoid enforcement of deportation orders.

Mr. Gekas said immigration is no longer just a law-and-order issue, it's now a matter of national security.

"Members of Congress and the public at large recognize that our open society we're so proud of is, because it is so open, endangering itself," Mr. Gekas said.

As chairman of the immigration subcommittee, Mr. Gekas has a platform for starting the public debate on reform, though how far the bill can go this year is uncertain.

To go past Mr. Gekas' committee it would have to gain the approval of Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, whose spokesman yesterday said he was still reviewing it.

Amid numerous pending proposals to restructure the INS and agencies that handle domestic security and to crack down on illegal immigrants, Mr. Gekas' proposal is the only one to propose a broad reduction in legal immigration.

The bill would eliminate the entire diversity visa program, which offers 55,000 slots a year through a lottery, as well as remove adult siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens, and adult unmarried children of legal permanent residents, from the list of those eligible for green cards. Mr. Gekas' target is to reduce immigration by about 20 percent.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee from Texas, the top Democrat on the immigration subcommittee, called the bill "a variety of controversial provisions that really will have a difficult time getting through the House, much less the Senate."

Groups that support stricter immigration limits were pleased with the measure, but realistic about its chances.

The bill would also:

•Allow officials to require those coming on non-immigrant visas to post a bond. If they violate the terms of their visas, a bondsman would be responsible for bringing them in.

•Require schools that allow student visas to participate in the INS' student-tracking system, due out by next year, or else lose the ability to host foreign students, and would require the INS to meet its target for deployment or have the entire student-visa program shut down.

•Try to cut down on fraud by requiring specific standards for documents like Social Security cards.

•Require voter lists to be checked against Social Security databases and INS records to make sure registered voters are citizens.

•Allow the nation to continue to accept refugees, but requires congressional approval if the United States is on track to take in more refugees than the rest of the world combined the previous year.

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