Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Bipartisan support for a House bill to implement numerous reforms recommended by the September 11 commission broke down because of wrangling over proposed immigration and law enforcement policies.

Among the contested provisions is a measure that would require federal employees to accept only a valid “unexpired passport” as proof of identity for foreign nationals. Opponents say such a proposal would overturn several states’ laws and eliminate driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

“The legislation contains important provisions to enhance border security and reduce opportunities for terrorists to enter and stay in the United States,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, during a panel hearing yesterday.

Democrats also object to a provision in the bill that would expand “expedited removal” of illegal aliens.

“We reduce the risk of identity and document fraud … limit asylum abuse by terrorists and streamline the removal of terrorists and other criminal aliens,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

Democrats and immigrant-rights groups said the provisions to enhance immigration enforcement have more to do with keeping migrant workers south of the border and creating a police state than terrorism.

“Why are we bringing up all of these anti-civil liberties issues now?” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat.

A last-ditch effort by Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, to substitute a version of the bill containing only the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — without the extra provisions relating to law enforcement and immigration policy — was struck down.

All attempts by Democrats to alter or strike the immigration and law enforcement enhancements were defeated on party-line votes.

The measures approved yesterday will be part of an omnibus bill that is expected to be brought to a final vote in the House next week.

One of the amendments approved by the Judiciary Committee yesterday — proposed by Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat — would create an independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

The bipartisan board would review the effect on civil liberties of the president’s actions to protect Americans from terrorist threats. Mr. Watt’s amendment received unanimous support from committee Republicans, but was snubbed by Democrats.

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