A draft immigration bill from Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter calls for dramatic increases in legal immigration, far beyond any of the other major proposals now before Congress.
Immigration and border security have become the hottest issues in Washington, with senators and members of Congress filing bill after bill to address them. The Senate is preparing for a major debate early next year on an overhaul, including creating a new flow of foreign workers like that contained in the bill by Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.
The House, meanwhile, is pushing toward a vote this year specifically on border and immigration enforcement.
“What we want to do is go home saying we’ve taken a first step, and it’s not just at the hearing level, and we’ve voted on something,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican and vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.
The two approaches underscore the difficulty Congress will have in putting together a bill for President Bush to sign, especially when, Mr. Kingston said, the politics of immigration have now joined “race, guns, school prayer, religion and Social Security” as the most volatile issues of American politics.
As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Specter might be able to control flow of the debate in the Senate with his bill. His measure combines provisions from several of his colleagues’ bills, including requiring illegal aliens to return home, but only for a short period of time before being let back into the United States on a path to citizenship.
His biggest addition, though, is the increase in green card totals, or legal immigration.
A review by NumbersUSA, which advocates lower immigration levels, found that the level of legal, permanent immigration could double from its current level of more than 900,000 in fiscal 2004.
Rosemary Jenks, the group’s director of government affairs, said Mr. Specter increases the cap on family-preference immigrants by 254,000 a year, raises the cap on employment-based visas by 150,000 a year, “recaptures” unused visas and exempts hundreds of thousands of family members from caps as well.
“My best estimate is more than doubled, so another million a year,” she said.
A brief analysis by Michael M. Hethmon, a lawyer at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, also showed big increases.
“In terms of mass immigration, they decided the ‘something-for-everybody’ approach would work,” he said.
Mr. Specter’s goal in putting out a bill was to jump-start the argument and assert his committee’s jurisdiction over the issue. In a letter accompanying his draft, he said he does “not necessarily endorse every provision included.”
In the House, meanwhile, dozens of bills have been filed targeting the current flow of illegal aliens. The House also seems more willing to take up the thorny issue of targeting employers who hire illegal aliens.
Mr. Kingston said farmers in his district are torn because they don’t want to hire illegal aliens but they feel they have to in order to compete with other farmers who hire them.
“If people can escape from a maximum security prison, they darn sure can get into the U.S.A.,” Mr. Kingston said. “The question is why are they getting in. They’re getting in because they want a job, and what you have to do is dry up that source.”
The House Homeland Security Committee has approved a bill that would boost personnel and end “catch-and-release,” the policy of allowing non-Mexican illegal aliens to go free in the hope they return for a deportation hearing. The bill also expands expedited removal, which should reduce the time needed to send those aliens home.
Among the other House measures introduced are bills to end birthright citizenship, which grants children of illegal aliens automatic citizenship; to build a barrier system along the border — either with a fence, or technology, or a combination of the two; to allow local law enforcement to detain illegal aliens for immigration violations and force federal authorities to pick up the aliens; and to increase penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens.
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