The White House is increasing pressure on Congress to strike from the final intelligence-reform legislation certain immigration-related provisions that House Republicans had tagged onto their version of the bill.
With a conference on the House and Senate versions of the legislation opening today, the Bush administration has written to Congress, expressing opposition to provisions that would broaden the government’s ability to deport aliens and limit the rights of asylum-seekers.
The letter, dated Monday and signed by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten, expands on an Oct. 7 statement of administration policy by the president that first raised concerns about the provisions.
“These sections should be modified or dropped altogether,” the administration says in Monday’s letter, which was released by the Bush administration yesterday.
The letter expresses broad support for the bulk of the content in the House and Senate versions of the intelligence-reform bill, both of which call for the establishment of a national intelligence director (NID) and National Counterterrorism Center.
However, the administration said it is “gravely concerned about the excessive and unnecessary detail in the structure of the Office of the NID” included in both versions. The final bill, they said, “should not create additional layers of investigative offices and staffs.”
The administration added that it opposes the establishment of an ombudsman to work within the NID offices, as well as “provisions that allow a subordinate officer to oversee or otherwise supervise the work of his superior.”
The administration expressed satisfaction with one NID provision in the House version, which calls for keeping the intelligence community’s overall budget secret — or effectively blocking “disclosure of sensitive information relating to [it].”
The letter was addressed to Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, who is chairman of the Senate-House conference to reconcile differences between the two versions of the reform.
Mrs. Collins, who co-wrote the Senate version with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said the letter was “further evidence that the president is eager to sign a bill that will implement a major reorganization of our intelligence system and make our nation safer.”
The recommendations in the letter “will be considered carefully,” she said.
Aside from the immigration and management structure issues, Mr. Bush urged Congress to agree on a final version quickly so he can sign it “into law as soon as possible,” although it remains to be seen whether it will go through by Nov. 2.
The July final report of the commission that investigated the September 11 attacks laid the groundwork for the reforms, and with the election fast approaching, national security remains among the hottest campaign issues.
Critics say House Republicans have abused the opportunity to legitimately overhaul the nation’s intelligence community by sneaking a series of controversial provisions into their reform package, particularly the sections dealing with immigration.
At issue are sections 3007 and 3008 of the House bill. Human Rights First, a New York-based advocacy group, says section 3007 would allow immigration enforcement officers to deport, without a hearing, any noncitizen who entered the United States illegally and has been in the country less than five years.
“This could result in the summary deportation of people who could face serious harm if deported, including battered spouses and children, victims of human trafficking and migrants from Cuba,” the group says on its Web site.
Section 3008 expands the government’s reasons for denying asylum. Citing refugees who often are forced to flee their countries under austere conditions — such as those from the Darfur region of Sudan, Human Rights First argues that the section “would allow an otherwise credible asylum-seeker to be denied asylum if he cannot provide corroborating documents that an adjudicator thinks he should be able to submit.”
The administration “strongly opposes” section 3007 and “has concerns about” section 3008, according to the White House letter to Congress.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) yesterday said the letter signaled little more than a buckling by the president to political pressure.
“The Bush administration is clearly feeling the heat on these extraneous and dangerous provisions,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.
“Although it continues to stubbornly endorse measures that would cut away at checks and balances for immigrants, expand the Patriot Act, add eight new death penalties and remove meaningful civil-liberties protections, the White House has signaled that it can still be swayed by political pressures,” Miss Murphy said.
“It seems that the White House is reacting to growing pressure from crucial voter groups, like Cubans in Florida,” she said. “The letter is evidence that the administration realizes that there are tremendous political risks if it ignores the protests of these key constituencies in this close presidential election. Appeasing potential voters should not be how we undergo the greatest restructuring of our nation’s intelligence systems — a commitment to freedom and liberty should.”
The Bush administration, meanwhile, welcomed Congress’ efforts to prevent counterfeiting and tampering with driver’s licenses and birth certificates, but said, “Additional consultation with the states is necessary to address important concerns about flexibility, privacy and unfunded mandates.”
Brian DeBose contributed to this report.