House Republican leaders say the immigration reforms in their intelligence overhaul bill will remain, despite prodding by Senate Republicans and the White House to delete the provisions.
The bill calls for a crackdown on driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, easier deportations and limits on the use of foreign consular identification cards. The White House initially signed off on these provisions, which House leaders and some September 11 family members endorsed.
“This bill will make the American people safer,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “In order for anything to be added or taken out of this bill, you have to show how it makes America safer.”
The Washington Times reported Monday that White House policy staffers urged House members over the weekend to strip out the immigration provisions, said a congressional source familiar with the bill and Rosemary Jerks, a lobbyist for Numbers USA, an immigration controls group that has been tracking the bill.
White House officials yesterday didn’t deny a shift in position or that a policy meeting had taken place.
“We don’t support the provision making it easier to deport aliens who may be tortured at home,” White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said, adding that reports to the contrary were erroneous.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said the White House submitted a document to the House leadership asking that the provisions be removed.
“I don’t have it, but I have seen it and there is no question that [a policy staffers meeting] did take place,” he said.
“I see my leadership standing firm and we will pass the bill,” he said. “But my fear is that we are just trying to get Democrats to vote against it,” only to have the immigration provisions “be stripped in conference.”
White House spokeswoman Erin Heal said, “We continue to meet on a regular basis with staffers on the House and Senate side obviously with legislation still in progress, and we continue to work with them, and it is at this point a work in progress.”
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, angrily denied that he had discussions with the White House. Backed by September 11 family members, he flatly refused to remove the immigration provisions.
“[I]f we want to find and identify people who want to do harm to this country, we have to have the means to do it, and the driver’s license is one way of doing it,” Mr. Hastert said. “The 9/11 commission has done a good job and issued a thorough report, but we’ve taken a lot of time to look at these issues as well.”
Democrats who oppose the immigration provisions said they have been echoing the position of the September 11th Family Steering Committee.
But Peter Gadiel, spokesman for the 9/11 Families for a Secure America, disagreed.
“Not one member of the steering committee is opposed to the immigration reforms,” he said. “What they have been told is that if the immigration provisions are not taken out, the Senate will kill the bill, and that is their fear, that we will have no bill.”
Mr. Gadiel said his organization will drop its endorsement if the immigration reforms are removed.
House Democratic leaders in a letter to Mr. Hastert yesterday asked for a floor vote to substitute the Senate version of the bill, introduced by Reps. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, which doesn’t contain the strict immigration provisions.
The House is expected to vote on the intelligence reform bill this week. If passed, it will head into negotiations with the Senate, where Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has made it clear that she will not accept the provisions.
Mrs. Collins authored the Senate companion bill with Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican.