Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the man who wrote House Republicans’ controversial 2005 immigration crackdown bill, was installed Friday as chairman of the immigration subcommittee, in a move likely to cheer conservatives and enrage immigrant-rights advocates.
The Wisconsin Republican drove many of the immigration changes after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including pushing through the REAL ID act to tighten restrictions on driver’s licenses.
But his biggest effort was the 2005 immigration bill that called for new border fencing, required companies to use E-Verify to make sure their employees were legal, and — most controversially — created a criminal penalty for being in the U.S. without authorization. Currently, illegal presence is only a civil offense — although jumping the border is a crime.
The “Sensenbrenner Bill,” as it became known, cleared the House on a bipartisan 239-182 vote. But it collided with the Senate, where lawmakers in both parties were moving the other direction to try to legalize illegal immigrants.
After the House vote Mr. Sensenbrenner’s name became a rallying cry for immigrant-rights advocates, sparking massive protests in the spring of 2006. Those culminated in a series of May 1 “Day without immigrants,” rallies that drew hundreds of thousands in cities across the country — including 500,000 in Los Angeles alone.
“He’s got quite a track record,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading advocacy group. “His anti-immigrant bill, which bore his name, led to the biggest protests in modern American history. It will tough for him to top that but, given the propensity for GOP overreach, I’m guessing he will.”
On the right, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s 2005 bill spawned the Minuteman movement — citizens who traveled to the southwest border to help Border Patrol agents spot illegal immigrants attempting to sneak in.
And late in 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, enacting into law the gist of Mr. Sensenbrenner’s border security plans.
Mr. Sensenbrenner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on his new chairmanship.
Among his other proposals on immigration were expanding the number of high-tech guest-workers, limiting the agriculture guest-worker program and changing the law so illegal immigrants aren’t counted when seats in Congress are divvied up.
He has also been critical of the Obama administration’s relaxed enforcement against illegal immigrants, saying it encouraged the new wave of border-jumpers over the last three years.