The House passed legislation to overhaul the nation’s intelligence agencies yesterday. It includes several immigration reforms deemed controversial by House and Senate Democrats, and that could complicate negotiations between the two chambers.
House Republicans said their bill not only utilized the recommendations of the September 11 commission, but went further in addressing issues that the commission could not.
“The 9/11 commission provided a rewarding and admirable service, but they were not able to address certain things because they needed to be unanimous and these immigration reforms represent some of that,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican.
The bill creates a national intelligence director with budget authority over nonmilitary intelligence agencies, a national counterterrorism center and a joint intelligence community council, as the commission recommended. It passed 282-134, with 69 Democrats and 213 Republicans supporting the measure and 125 Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent opposing it.
Some Republicans, including President Bush, however, opposed the asylum and the deportation provision that would make it easier to deport terrorists even back to countries known to torture suspects.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, said the bill “lumps immigrants with terrorists.” Mr. Bush decried the provision as too broad and a radical shift in immigration policy without necessary debate.
Among the more contentious immigration provisions in the House version are more stringent restrictions on illegal aliens’ ability to obtain driver’s licenses to take effect in three years, easier deportations and expanded judicial review in asylum cases.
Republicans mocked Democrats who voted against the bill for straddling the fence and for playing follow the leader with the Senate’s bill. Democratic members have complained for weeks that the Republican-led bill goes too far in expanding police powers, the U.S.A. Patriot Act and immigration enforcement and is too weak on nuclear proliferation and homeland-security protection of seaports, chemical and nuclear plants and railways.
“I must admit I am baffled by complaints from the other side of the aisle,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. “Some have complained that we are going too slow; some said too fast; others said our bill was too strong; some said it was too weak; and still others complained simply because that is their nature.”
The bill now heads to conference with Senate leaders, who passed a markedly different version on Wednesday containing no immigration provisions and deviating little from the September 11 commission’s suggestions.
After failing to substitute the Senate’s intelligence-reform bill in a vote late Thursday night, Democrats tried and failed a second time yesterday afternoon on a 223-193 vote.
“If we vote for the substitute with the exact same language as the Senate, we can put it on the president’s desk tomorrow; we can be in the Rose Garden celebrating his signature,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, who introduced the second substitute.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said the measure is necessary to protect America from terrorists.
“No one who comes to the United States legally would be subject to the expedited removal provisions of this bill, what’s going on now is there are a lot of non-Mexicans coming across this border and many of them are from the Middle East; many have committed crimes at home, and without this expedited provision, we are stuck with these people,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
A provision to give judges the authority to use a defendant’s “demeanor” and “consistency” in their determination of asylum claims remained intact in the bill.
Opposing Democrats and Republicans said that amendment will make it difficult for legitimate immigrants to claim asylum and said the current system, which bars terrorists from claiming asylum, is enough.
Other minor battles also took place on the immigration front with Rep. Doug Ose, California Republican, winning favor for his provision to complete construction of a 14-mile-long fence along the southern border dividing Tijuana, Mexico, from San Diego.
Various human rights, Hispanic advocacy and civil liberties groups decried the House immigration provisions.
“This legislation is not what the [September 11] commissioners asked for and for the sake of freedom and privacy, it must be rejected,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.
Eric Biel, deputy director of Human Rights First, said that the House version “severely restricts the rights of immigrants” and that the deportation provision would, “subject some to a high risk of torture in their home countries.”