Wednesday, December 8, 2004

President Bush is vowing to help House Republicans enact tighter immigration-security controls “early in the next session” of Congress.

The promise — made in a letter to members of Congress — was part of the final push by the White House to win support for the massive intelligence-overhaul bill, which was stripped of several key immigration reforms so it would pass more easily.

“I look forward to working with the Congress early in the next session to address these [border security] issues, including improving our asylum laws and standards for issuing driver’s licenses,” Mr. Bush wrote.

But the president’s promised immigration reforms could come too late, House Republican leaders said.

“These provisions are not too controversial — they are vital,” said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and led the opposition to the pared-down intelligence bill. “How could we face grieving families in the future and tell them that while we might have done more, the legislative hurdles were just too high? I, for one, cannot, and I, therefore, oppose this bill.”

Still, immigration reformers aim to hold Mr. Bush — and the House Republican leadership — to their promises to address the reforms promptly next year.

“While I am disappointed that Congress — in classic fashion — has squandered this golden opportunity, I am encouraged by the president’s commitment,” Rep. Tom Tancredo said yesterday. “And I have every intention of making sure he keeps it.”

The Colorado Republican and other reformers in the House want major changes in the nation’s immigration policies to block the influx of illegal aliens and to hamper their movement around the interior of the country. Specifically, they want to make it more difficult to obtain valid driver’s licenses.

“We are here today because on September 11, 2001, 19 men, all of whom entered our country illegally, overstayed their visas or obtained fraudulent visas, boarded four airplanes and used them as bombs to kill thousands of our citizens,” said Rep. Nathan Deal, Georgia Republican. “The primary identification documents that allowed them to board those airplanes were state driver’s licenses. Nothing in this bill would prevent those hijackers from using those same driver’s licenses to board those same airplanes and repeat the events of 9/11.”

In the Senate — where the immigration provisions were stripped from the legislation — Republicans voiced support for some of the immigration reforms originally proposed and supported in the House.

“I think there is considerable support for overhauling our immigration laws and taking a look at the driver’s license issue, as well as other issues raised by Congressman Sensenbrenner,” Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said yesterday. “But the fact is that those provisions, which were highly controversial and several of them were opposed by the administration, would have been poison pills for this bill.”

The prospect of revisiting the immigration reforms alarmed others.

During a pointed exchange on the House floor last night, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the reforms “egregious” and “extraneous” and signaled that Democrats would oppose them.

“I have serious concerns,” the California Democrat said. “I hope Republican leaders won’t tarnish the achievements of today” by bringing up the immigration reforms again after the new year.

Mr. Sensenbrenner said he has heard from many constituents and citizens across the country who support the immigration reforms.

“I want to say to them and to everyone else that is listening: I will not rest until these provisions are enacted,” he said. “I will bring them up relentlessly, and the job will be completed. This bill was a chance to complete the job. That chance was missed, but it will come again soon.”

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