- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The House Homeland Security Committee yesterday passed a border security bill that would expand expedited removal of illegal aliens across all U.S. land borders and boost funding for border enforcement and detention.

“Expedited removal” is an attempt to speed up the processing and return of illegal aliens to their home countries, which takes about 90 days under the old system, but has been cut to about 30 days under a limited Department of Homeland Security pilot program. The program allows immigration authorities more discretion to deport someone without a set of hearings, and cuts down on processing time for other countries to take back their citizens.

The bill, which passed by voice vote, also would penalize countries that refuse to take back illegal aliens and would end the current “catch-and-release” policy. Under that policy the Department of Homeland Security processes so-called OTMs, or “other than Mexicans,” and then releases most of them into society with the hope — usually dashed — they would return in order to be deported.

“It is a good start on border security,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican, who wrote the expedited-removal provision, which passed 18-14 as an amendment to the underlying bill. One Democrat joined 17 Republicans in supporting expedited removal, while one Republican joined 13 Democrats in opposition.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat, said there are some good provisions in the bill, but as long as expedited removal is included many Democrats will oppose it.

“This is a poison pill for the Hispanic Caucus,” she said. “It’s a major problem, first on the principle: Do we as Americans believe in due process or not?”

She said there have been mix-ups and instances where green card holders, who are in the country legally, have been subject to expedited removal and face huge hurdles to return.

The committee did not vote on an amendment to combine Immigration and Customs Enforcement with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, but members of both parties said there is strong support for coming back and doing that soon.

Immigration continues to snowball as a political and policy issue in Congress. House Republican leaders have said they do not want to go home for the end of the year without giving their members a chance to vote on border security.

The issue is popping up throughout the Capitol with the House immigration subcommittee yesterday finishing its third hearing on the impact of illegal immigration on congressional districts, and the House Education and the Workforce Committee holding a hearing Wednesday on the impact of immigrants in the labor force.

Texas Reps. John Culberson, a Republican, and Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat, introduced a bill yesterday that allots $100 million to pay for training and overtime costs for local sheriffs to help support the Border Patrol.

And Sens. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, and Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, proposed a border security bill with increases in Border Patrol agents, ICE inspectors and a particular emphasis on hiring more lawyers to process illegal aliens faster.

Mr. Dorgan said at many of the northern border posts, security amounts to an orange traffic cone in the middle of the road after 5 p.m. — which didn’t serve as much of a deterrent.

“The really polite drivers would stop as they’re driving through in the middle of the night and they’d move the cone and then get out and put it back. Those not quite so polite would just shred it at 60 miles an hour,” he said.

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