- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

President Bush yesterday called on the Senate to pass a bill that would grant amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens in time for his trip to Mexico tomorrow.
The Senate's top Democrat, however, said he was not planning for a vote on the border-security measure until next month.
The Mexicans in question are illegals because they have overstayed their visas. But because they have entered America legally, the president prefers to describe them as lawful inhabitants.
"I want to show our friends, the Mexicans, that we are compassionate about people who live here on a legal basis, that we don't disrupt the families for people who are here legally," Mr. Bush told reporters. "If someone is living here legally, they won't have to leave the country in order to stay with their family.
"We believe in family values," the president concluded.
But on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is not optimistic about passing the bill soon, saying only that he hopes to address the objections of Sen. Robert C. Byrd when the Senate returns from its Easter recess April 8.
"Senator Byrd has indicated to me that he is not opposed, necessarily, to the debate of the issue. He is opposed to many of the issues involving both border security" and amnesty, Mr. Daschle said. "So we may have to file cloture, but at some point I'm hopeful that when we come back, that too will have the priority it deserves."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said more than 60 senators would vote for the measure, but only if Mr. Daschle forces the issue. Congress is set to adjourn for Easter on Friday.
Several members of Congress were saying yesterday that the amnesty provision would have a tough time getting past the objections of Mr. Byrd, the second-longest-serving senator and a masterful parliamentarian.
The House passed the border-security bill last week by one vote, but the West Virginia Democrat blocked it in the Senate on Monday because of the provision allowing immigrants to pay $1,000 fees to stay in the country while their residency applications are processed. Mr. Byrd called the proposal "sheer lunacy."
Asked how Democrats can get around Mr. Byrd's objection, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and one of the bill's sponsors said, "Well, that's the big problem."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey agreed.
"It's always tough getting anything through the Senate under any circumstances, but Senator Byrd is a very able senator, especially when it comes to parliamentary moves," the Texas Republican said.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and leading opponent of the temporary amnesty, said he was "flabbergasted" at Mr. Byrd's response.
"I will take support from whatever corner I can find it. He is the master of all the rules, and if there is one guy I wouldn't want to tangle with in the landmine of rules, it's him," Mr. Tancredo said.
One Senate Republican aide said their office had been flooded with calls against the president's proposal, with none favoring it.
Nevertheless, the White House continued to push for the bill yesterday, with Mr. Bush emphasizing that it also "enhances our border security."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer provided details to reporters.
"This measure includes some very stringent provisions dealing with border security," the presidential spokesman said. "They include requiring personal-identification documents to be more tamper-resistant and secure, enhancing the alien application screening process to eliminate entry of unwanted individuals.
"And this legislation also requires monitoring of foreign students and exchange visitors to ensure they maintain their status," he added.
Mr. Fleischer said the bill "makes the nation more welcoming to immigrants, while at the same time appropriately toughening up the borders."
But it is the provision granting amnesty to illegals that Mr. Bush wants enacted before he meets this week with Mexican President Vicente Fox. Before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Fox had urged Mr. Bush to resolve the issue by the end of last year.
When the terrorist attacks prompted calls for tighter immigration laws, not looser, the amnesty issue was placed on hold. It has resurfaced now that the president is about to visit Mexico.
Republicans argue that the provision in the bill isn't an amnesty, since it isn't blanket forgiveness and it still assesses a monetary penalty to those applying for legal residency.
But Mr. Byrd said, "If waiving tougher penalties for illegal aliens is not a form of amnesty, then I don't know what is."
Mr. Fleischer called the delay "another example of the House taking action while the Senate has not."
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, agreed with Mr. Fleischer's assessment, and said there was no need for an extended debate.
The House passed two different border-security bills one containing the immigration provision and one without, said Mr. Brownback, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee.
"Bring up either one, and if someone wants to [add the amnesty provision] great. God bless them, let's try it. If they don't, let's move it through because we need to get border security," Mr. Brownback said.
In a press conference last week, Mr. Bush emphasized that he didn't want to grant citizenship to millions of Mexicans who entered the United States illegally. He said he made that plain to Mr. Fox during the Mexican leader's visit to Washington last year.
The president said he "cautioned President Fox at the time that there will be no blanket amnesty in America. I don't think the will of the American people is for blanket amnesty. I think he understands that."


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