- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

House Republican leaders will attempt to slip through an unrecorded vote this evening to give amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, allowing them to remain legally in the United States.
The amnesty measure will come before the representatives by way of a special arrangement between the White House and the House leadership. It will appear among a batch of uncontroversial bills that typically win pro forma approval without amendment or debate.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said House approval "will send a message to the world that our country will continue to be a beacon to all who love freedom and the opportunity to live, work and raise a family."
The legislation is listed on this evening's so-called "suspension" or "consent" calendar, which lists bills that are expected to win automatic approval. The voting is "cloaked," meaning there is no record and no explanation of the way individual representatives vote, and each member is said to cast a "shadow vote."
Opponents say the Bush administration is using stealth tactics to get its way. They say the Republican Party is trying to schmooze Hispanic voters and appease Mexican leaders.
"Under pressure from the White House, the leadership of the House has chosen the sneakiest possible way to get amnesty passed so the president can go to Mexico this month and tell [Mexican President] Vicente Fox [that] amnesty has been approved," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. "This is so incredibly frustrating."
Mr. Tancredo, who chairs the Congressional Caucus on Immigration Reform, opposes efforts to exempt from deportation or legal sanction people who have broken immigration law by infiltrating the border or overstaying their business, school or travel visas.
The bill's supporters say that opponents' characterization of the measure as an amnesty for illegal immigrants is an exaggeration. White House officials and their congressional backers argue that the U.S. economy depends on workers from Mexico to take on the kinds of low-skill, low-paying agricultural and service jobs that Americans avoid.
The administration favors making some sort of exemption for many of those undocumented workers by "legalizing," "normalizing" or "regularizing" the immigration status of laborers from Mexico.
Those who oppose such measures insist that making exemptions for illegal aliens compromises national security and, among other things, encourages others to violate the border.
The legislation in question is called the Section 245i Extension Bill. It refers to a portion of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that eases the requirements for seeking immigration status and defines who may obtain it.
An extension of Section 245i was up for a vote on September 11. As a result of the terrorist attacks, the vote was deferred and the 245i extension died. Until now, efforts to revive the measure have failed.
The 245i extension will apply to undocumented workers who pay $1,000 to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and have family members or employers willing to sponsor them for residency. It allows such illegal aliens to remain in the United States while applying for permanent residency and the right to work here rather than returning to their homeland and applying, as the basic law requires.
The exemption will last for six months. It will be a boon to illegal workers because applying from abroad for legal U.S. residency which can lead to citizenship can take many months, and the result is not certain. Then, too, applicants sometimes wind up on a long waiting list.
Mr. Tancredo says passing the 245i extension is "a slap in the face to all in the world who are waiting to come into the country legally. It tells those who waited and came to us legally that, 'You all are a bunch of suckers. You should just have sneaked in. We will not trace you down. Stay under the radar screen, and we will give you amnesty.' That's the message this sends."
Responding to news of the impending vote, Dan Stein, head of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), wrote INS Commissioner James Ziglar, asking him to estimate the cost and burden on the service of changing the status of the illegal aliens who will apply for the exemption. FAIR lobbies for tighter immigration restrictions.
"On the six-month anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, it is shocking to find that the nation's leaders haven't yet understood the lessons of that day," Mr. Stein said in a statement. "Granting amnesty to those who have broken our laws and about whom we know virtually nothing is playing games with national security. … To assume the INS is even remotely prepared or equipped to absorb the huge administrative burden of extending 245i is irresponsible. … Few if any federal agencies have a worse track record than the INS when it comes to mismanagement, corruption, inefficiency, and ineptitude."
But backers of White House efforts to ease the burden on "hardworking, tax-paying" Mexicans pursuing the American dream contend all these objections are wrongheaded.
"The anti-immigration portion of the Republican Party wants to call this a giant, mass amnesty. It isn't," said one Hill staffer involved with the 245i extension issue, who asked to remain anonymous. "And those in the party who want to keep the economy moving will vote 'yes.' We need these workers."


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