- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

A House panel today will begin considering bills to speed up citizenship for the 37,000 legal immigrants now on active duty in the military, and advocates for broader immigration say the bill could be a chance to push their agenda.Similar military bills are pending in the Senate, and those on both sides of the immigration debate say the legislation has strong support and is expected to pass sometime soon.”That’s going to happen in any event, and they’re going to start bringing their families,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee. “Their families have been separated, and they’re going to start bringing their families. I think this is going to be an opportunity to come back to this issue.”In the months after the September 11 attacks, efforts to ease immigration laws were blocked in both chambers, including a major initiative to allow illegal immigrants living in the U.S. to apply for legal status here, rather than return home and go through the normal process. Proponents, including the Bush administration, say the provision — referred to as 245(i) by the section of immigration code it falls under — is a family-reunification policy, but opponents called it a “mini-amnesty.”Several versions of that bill have been reintroduced in this congressional session, and last week House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio told reporters from Hispanic news outlets the Senate was responsible for holding up last year’s bill. She said House Republicans may try to pass an extension of 245(i) again.”We are poised to move in that direction, to address this issue,” she said, though she didn’t say when such a bill might see action.Republican aides said there are no plans to move a bill anytime soon, and the prospect got a cool reception from Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.”If people enter and live in this country illegally, they should not be rewarded with benefits that accrue to American citizens,” he said. He has filed a bill to reduce the number of legal immigrants and eliminate some types of immigrant visas altogether.Mr. Tancredo and others who want to reduce immigration say they have the initiative in the debate.Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which lobbies for tighter controls on immigration, said reducing the amount of legal immigration is the unfinished business of the 1996 immigration reforms, and he said there are signs Congress under its new leadership might be willing to address that.”This appears to be a Congress that is capable of bringing those issues back up,” he said.But Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, said what is remarkable about the post-September 11 environment is how little action Congress has taken to cut immigration.”If you look in the last 18 months since September 11, the legislation that has passed has not been extreme,” she said. She said what has passed — bills to enhance border security and visa checks — were targeted solutions. She said even reorganizing the old Immigration and Naturalization Service as part of the new Department of Homeland Security is a good step, though they have concerns about coordination and the particulars of the effort.Other legislation this Congress includes a bill backed by the Immigration Reform Caucus that would crack down on use of “matricula consular” cards. The cards are issued by Mexican consulates and accepted by some banks and state and local agencies as identification. Critics say the cards are used almost exclusively by illegal immigrants, are easy to forge and represent a threat to security.

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