Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The White House said yesterday that it “strongly” supports putting the immigration security provisions of the Real I.D. Act into the emergency spending bill, essentially guaranteeing they will become law.

“This important legislation will strengthen the ability of the United States to protect against terrorist entry into and activities within the United States,” Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a letter to appropriators dated Monday and released by congressional offices yesterday.

The House and Senate are working out differences between their emergency spending bills. The House version contains the immigration provisions, but the Senate’s does not.

The White House is joining House Republican leaders who insist the provisions remain in the final bill. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, acknowledged Monday that Democrats can’t stop the provisions.

The bill would set national standards to encourage states to issue driver’s licenses only to those lawfully in the country, would allow judges more discretion in denying asylum claims and would waive laws that are preventing completion of a section of border fence near San Diego.

It passed the House by a 261-161 vote in February, and later was rolled into the House’s $81.4 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. In his letter, Mr. Bolten said the administration wants some of the Real I.D. provisions tweaked before final passage.

The Senate’s $81 billion version doesn’t include the provisions, but does have an amendment from Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, that exempts thousands of returning temporary seasonal workers from the 66,000-person cap on H-2B visas.

Mr. Bolten said the administration supports that amendment.

The administration opposed the driver’s license standards when House Republicans tried to attach them to last year’s intelligence overhaul bill, but supported their passage when the House voted on them in February.

Senate Republican aides said the White House opposed attaching Real I.D. to the Senate’s version of the supplemental spending bill earlier this month, in order to keep it from weighing down the legislation, but now are supporting the provisions as part of the final compromise.

Opponents have not given up the fight.

Timothy H. Edgar, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill “not only denies the persecuted safe haven here, but it would place undue burdens on legal permanent residents and citizens alike.”

Real I.D. is opposed by a coalition of hundreds of groups, including privacy rights and immigrant rights advocates.

“These won’t impact immigrants’ behavior, except to have them drive without insurance or licenses, to cross the border in more dangerous places, or to live underground after fleeing from their oppressors,” said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum.

The National Council of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association also oppose the measure, arguing that the driver’s license standards are unenforceable.

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