- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, yesterday said he will delay passage of border-security legislation because it now contains a provision of amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
"It is lunacy sheer lunacy that the president would request, and the House would pass, such an amnesty at this time. That point seems obvious to the American people, if not to the administration," Mr. Byrd said on the Senate floor.
His objections could delay consideration of the legislation for some time, since the Senate's calendar is full and the bill's best chance would have been to move through the chamber by unanimous consent something a lone senator can stop.
President Bush had sought the amnesty provision as part of his outreach to Hispanics and had urged the House to pass it before his meeting this week with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
The House last week approved the amnesty 275-137 a single vote more than the two-thirds required by the procedural rules under which the bill was considered. Amnesty would allow those in the United States illegally to remain here while their paperwork for residency is processed, rather than return home and have to restart the process.
Backers defended the measure as a pro-family policy. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said it meant spouses and parents applying for residency wouldn't have to go back home and be separated from their families while waiting for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to process their applications.
Mr. Byrd held up action in December on the legislation to increase border security, a measure taken in response to the September 11 attacks. The administration and House leaders had hoped attaching the amnesty provision would push the Democrat-controlled Senate to act, but instead it just fed Mr. Byrd's demand for a full debate on the bill.
The border-security provisions 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 so they can better track immigrants' movements. Three of the 19 air pirates in the attacks had overstayed their visas.
House members have voted twice to pass the border-security provisions, and Greg Crist, a spokesman for Mr. Armey, said it is time for the Senate to act.
"We're not sure why the senator would oppose something that builds on the existing network of security since [September 11]," Mr. Crist said. "It boggles our minds in the House, and we'll keep trying."
The bill provides a temporary extension to a program known as Section 245(i) that allows some illegal aliens to stay in the United States while their residency applications are processed. The program, requiring each foreigner to pay a $1,000 penalty to remain in the country, expired in April.
The House approved an extension in May by a vote of 336-43. The Senate approved its own version on Sept. 6 and sent it back to the House. The House vote was closer this time around because of a strong effort from immigration reform groups who said amnesty would reward lawbreakers and encourage more illegal immigration by holding out the promise of future amnesties.
Mr. Byrd said last week's revelation that student visas were approved and sent to two of the suspected September 11 terrorist hijackers showed how poorly equipped the INS was to handle its current caseload, much less new cases under the amnesty provision.
"If the American people went to bed last Tuesday night in dismay over this latest INS debacle, they must have been absolutely dumbfounded when they awoke Wednesday morning to learn that the House of Representatives had passed, at the request of the president, what amounts to an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, many of whom have not undergone any background or security check," he said.
"This senator from West Virginia will not be pressured into passing legislation," he said. "Senators have a responsibility to consider and to thoroughly debate legislation that comes before it, especially legislation that raises as many concerns as Section 245(i). And I intend to raise those concerns that the administration chose not to address last week when the House acted on the 245(i) provision."


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