- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

The House last night passed a major border enforcement and immigration security bill after approving amendments ending the diversity visa lottery program and requiring immigration authorities to complete background checks before granting an immigration benefit.

Those who have been pushing for years for more immigration controls said the bill, which passed 239-182, is a major victory, even if it doesn’t include all they had sought.

“The great thing about this is the momentum is on our side,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. “I really feel good about the issue of adding more stuff to it because of that momentum.”

On Thursday, the House passed a provision calling for nearly 700 miles of fence to be built on the U.S.-Mexico border. Then, yesterday, it passed an amendment ending the diversity visa lottery, a system that grants 50,000 green cards every year without tying it to family relationships or employment. It passed 273-148.

Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said the lottery makes no sense and pointed to examples of terrorists who have entered the country through the lottery.

“Don’t gamble with national security,” he said.

Some Democrats defended the program, with Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan saying the rest of the immigration system is geared toward employment and family reunification, which benefits large or industrialized nations and countries that already have sent a lot of immigrants. The lottery, he said, is often the only way for those from other countries to enter.

“The diversity visa program is a chance for many people of color from around the world to immigrate,” he said.

Congress also passed an amendment requiring that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services complete background checks before granting an immigration benefit such as a green card or citizenship.

A lot of the contentious work was done by the House Rules Committee, which blocked an amendment that would have created a foreign worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, sought by Democrats, and another amendment sought by conservatives that would have ended birthright citizenship for children of illegal aliens born in the United States.

Though they failed to secure a vote on an amendment to end birthright citizenship, Mr. Tancredo and members of his Immigration Reform Caucus forced Republican leaders to allow votes on a fence and other enforcement measures, and blocked any consideration of a guest-worker or legalization plan.

“This is a big step. It’s not just a small step, especially with the amendments that have been added,” he said. “I am certainly satisfied there was a good-faith effort on the part of our leadership, and I haven’t been able to say that.”

Democrats said the bill is dead because the Senate will never consider it as is, and they said enforcement won’t work without first legalizing the 11 million illegal aliens already here.

“This bill is either an insult to our intelligence or a con on the American people,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat.

Senators plan to begin a debate early next year on border security, interior enforcement, a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, and some Republicans are worried the Senate will insist those provisions be matched up against the House enforcement bill in a conference committee.

Mr. Tancredo and Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said a House Republican leader has promised that they will not allow their border enforcement bill to come back from a conference.

But Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who wants a broad foreign worker and legalization plan, disputed that.

“I checked with each member of the current leadership and none of them made that promise,” Mr. Flake said.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, who opposes guest-worker plans, challenged House leaders to say on the House floor that they wouldn’t allow a guest-worker plan, but none did.

“I think that speaks volumes,” he said, adding that the Rules Committee also blocked him from offering an amendment that would have put the House on record opposing a guest-worker plan.

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