Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that Democrats will have to accept the Real I.D. Act — written by House Republicans to limit asylum claims and crack down on illegal immigrants obtaining driver’s licenses — as part of the final emergency war-spending bill.

Negotiators are trying to hammer out a compromise between the Senate’s $81 billion supplemental spending bill and the House’s $81.4 billion version this week. House Republicans have said they will insist the immigration security provisions remain in the bill.

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said his party will not be able to stop them.

“They did it on purpose,” he told reporters yesterday. “They put it on a supplemental which they knew you couldn’t stop. I’ve had a senator come to me and say, ‘We’re going to filibuster this.’ I said, ‘Get real. It’s not going to happen. It’s a defense bill.’ ”

The provisions passed the House in February as the Real I.D. Act, 261-161, and were then rolled into the emergency spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same provisions were originally in the intelligence overhaul bill that passed the House last year, but Senate negotiators balked at including them in the final intelligence bill.

Under Real I.D.’s provisions, the secretary of Department of Homeland Security could waive laws in border areas, allowing completion of a section of border fence near San Diego; judges would have more discretion in deciding asylum petitions; and the categories of those who can be deported for association with terrorist groups would be expanded.

But the most wide-ranging provision would set standards for government-issued IDs. The standards would include ensuring the holder is legally present in the United States. The 10 states that don’t meet those standards would not be forced to change, but residents could not use their IDs for federal purposes such as boarding an airplane.

The Senate has never voted on Real I.D.

During the debate on the spending bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, wanted to offer an amendment putting the Senate on record opposing the measure, but her amendment fell outside the narrow rules for amendments.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican and a supporter of the measure, was prepared to offer an amendment with the provision, but decided against it after Mrs. Feinstein’s amendment was ruled out of order. He said his goal was to make sure the provisions end up in the final bill.

Opponents, including immigrant rights advocates such as the National Council of La Raza, said the Senate would have defeated Mr. Isakson’s amendment if it had come up for a vote.

In a letter to Mr. Reid last week, Mrs. Feinstein asked that he work to keep Real I.D. out of a final agreement.

“The Senate has not been afforded the opportunity to consider, debate and amend the bill. I believe it is important to follow the regular order and permit the Senate Judiciary Committee to, in bipartisan manner, evaluate the merits of this complex legislation,” she said.

Another group of senators, including two Democrats and two Republicans, also wrote a letter opposing the driver’s license provisions in particular. They said states will have a difficult time implementing the standards and called it an unfunded mandate.

Mr. Reid said he, too, opposes Real I.D.

“It’s a terrible piece of legislation,” he said, calling it a piecemeal approach to immigration.

While lacking the Real I.D. provisions, the Senate bill did include funding for hundreds of border patrol agents and an amendment to allow more temporary seasonal workers than the 66,000-per-year cap. But the chamber defeated a plan that would have given a multistep path to citizenship for up to 1 million illegal agriculture workers and their families.

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