- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

Senate Democratic leaders yesterday introduced legislation to allow a new round of amnesty applications for some aliens in the United States illegally.
The proposal revisits a concession the Bush administration wants but that some Republican lawmakers vow to fight vehemently.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, would allow legal aliens who overstayed their visas to remain in the United States while applying for permanent resident status after paying a $1,000 fine.
Green-card applicants would need to have been in the country as of Dec. 1, 2000, and would have to show they had an allowed family relationship or employer's certification by April 30, 2003 the end of the proposed amnesty window.
"This bill provides a genuine opportunity for families to remain together while a member applies for permanent residence," Mr. Daschle said. "It improves the immigration process without in any way weakening our national or border security."
The last time the issue arose, the House passed a narrower plan that would have had a much shorter window of eligibility. That passed by just one vote more than the two-thirds needed under the special rules under which it was considered.
But when it went to the Senate, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, raised substantive objections, arguing the bill was too big a matter to be considered too quickly. A Byrd spokesman said yesterday that the senator had not reviewed the new proposal.
A spokesman for the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, which would need to review the Senate bill, reacted coolly to the proposal yesterday.
"I haven't heard a lot of clamoring for it in the House," said committee spokesman Jeff Lungren.
He said the bill "would dramatically expand" the pool of illegal immigrants eligible for amnesty because the House approved a version that applied to illegal immigrants only in a four-month period of eligibility, as opposed to the Senate plan that would extend from passage until April 30, 2003.
"You start getting into an area of encouraging people to come here," Mr. Lungren said.
Proponents of the measure commonly referred to as 245(i), the section of immigration code that it modifies, say it isn't a true amnesty because the persons have to pay the $1,000 penalty and aren't granted green cards. Normally, they would have to return to their home countries to apply for green cards and could be barred from pursuing legal status for 10 years for overstaying their visas.
"Seventy-five percent of the people who have used 245(i) are the spouses and children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents," Mr. Kennedy said.
Estimates vary widely for how many people could apply for legal status under the new amnesty anywhere from a few thousand into the hundreds of thousands.
Groups that oppose the provision say it is more secure if applicants do return home before applying for permanent residency because the background checks performed by consulates and embassies overseas can be more thorough than the ones performed by agencies here.
The last time around, a majority of House Republicans opposed 245(i) and yesterday House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, challenged President Bush to bring along those Republicans this time.
"While President Bush has repeatedly indicated his support for Section 245(i), he has not been able to convince congressional Republicans to work with him in securing a more meaningful extension of the provision," he said. "We will need nothing less than the president's full support and strong leadership to pass this legislation."


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