Thursday, December 8, 2005

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted down an amendment that would have created a path to citizenship for most illegal aliens before passing a bill to require employers to check employees’ documents to ensure workers are legal.

The bill requires employers to use the Basic Pilot Program, a database that checks whether an employee is using a valid Social Security number. The measure also increases penalties for alien smuggling and addresses problems caused by court decisions that force authorities to release alien criminals if their home countries won’t take them back.

Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. said the bill was “designed to regain control of our borders and demagnetize the lure of higher-wage employment that drives illegal entry into this country.”

The bill, which passed on a party-line 23-15 vote, is scheduled for a full House vote next week, but faces opposition from Democrats who want full legalization of unauthorized aliens. It also faces procedural hurdles from Republicans who say the bill should do far more, including language to build a fence, end birthright citizenship, allow local police to help federal immigration authorities and boost workplace enforcement.

Democrats called the bill “atrocious,” “stupid,” “un-immigrant” and “un-American,” and said it was so bad they wouldn’t even try to fix it by offering many amendments.

“The stupidity of this bill is that everyone knows this won’t work,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat. He said it will never pass the Senate because, if it did, it would shut down entire parts of the agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries.

Republicans wanted to pass a bill aimed at enforcement, but Democrats forced a fight over legalizing the estimated 11 million illegal aliens.

Mr. Berman offered an amendment to provide a path to citizenship for illegals, based on part of a bill sponsored in the Senate by John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and in the House by Arizona Republican Reps. Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe.

Mr. Sensenbrenner labeled the amendment an amnesty, but Democrats said it requires aliens to pay a fine and continue to work for six years before being granted legal permanent residence. The Democrats said the bill isn’t complete without some legalization program.

The amendment was defeated 13-22, with Mr. Flake, a member of the committee, voting “present.” He said he wouldn’t vote for his bill in pieces, but would have supported Mr. Berman if he had offered the bill as a whole.

Mr. Sensenbrenner has promised to write a guest-worker bill next year, and yesterday provided a glimpse into how far he’s willing to go. He said he opposes “amnesty,” which to him includes something that would legalize illegal aliens who are now here.

“It’s called an adjustment of status, but adjustment of status for people who are illegally in the United States is an amnesty,” he said.

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