House Approves Immigration bill and Border Security Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House has combined two stalled bills, a popular immigration bill wanted by Democrats and a border security bill pushed by President Bush (news – web sites), hoping to get the combination past. But a Byrd spokesman cast doubt on its chances of passing.

The House approved a bill to allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the United States during processing of their residency paperwork. They also attached the border security bill to entice Byrd, Democrat-W.Va., to vote for the combination. The House approved the combined bill on a 275-137 vote on Tuesday night.

Byrd has been blocking the border security bill from moving quickly through the Senate, saying senators should have a chance to debate and amend the bill before voting on it. A combined immigration-border security bill would fare no better with Byrd, spokesman Tom Gavin said Tuesday.

The immigration bill would extend a deadline for giving hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the chance to apply for residency without leaving the United States. Many of those immigrants are here on work visas that have expired, but they did

not leave the country, officials said. More than 600,000 illegal immigrants were eligible under the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act to apply for visas without leaving the country, but it expired last April.

Under the House bill, the program would be extended to Nov. 30, or four months after the regulations are issued, whichever comes first. A reinstated program would apply only to illegal immigrants who can prove they are spouses or relatives of U.S. citizens, legal residents or employees sponsored by employers before Aug.14.

Families are being separated because the INS can’t get its work done fast enough, House Republican Leader Richard Armey of Texas said. “It is not right to let families be victimized by, if you will pardon the expression, bureaucratic indifference or incompetence,” Armey said. “That is not right and we don’t believe that is the way it should be.”

Democrats want a longer time period, but House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said they would support the bill anyway because “at least it’s movement.”

Republicans are “giving away as little as they can,” said Gephardt, who said he would push later this year for another bill that would extend the time allowed. “Their hearts are not really in this.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate last year passed a bill that would extend the deadline for a year. The border security portion of the bill would boost the pay of border patrol agents and allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to hire 200 new investigators and another 200 inspectors. It also would require the INS to establish a foreign student tracking system that records the acceptance of aliens by educational institutions, the issuance of student visas and the enrollment of aliens at schools. Several of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks were in the country on student visas.

The bill would also require that passports issued after 2003 be tamper-resistant and that visitor documents be machine-readable with biometrics, such as face recognition technology.

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INS Signs Memorandum of Agreement with Department of Defense

WASHINGTON – Through a cooperative arrangement between the Department of Justice and Department of Defense (DOD), the National Guard will assist the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on the Northern and Southern borders for up to six months. This will include approximately 700 military personnel along the northern and southern borders. In addition, DOD personnel will provide administrative support and air operations support to the Border Patrol along the northern border.

In light of increased security concerns in response to the recent terrorist attacks, DOD will mobilize, train, and deploy personnel and provide equipment to support INS Inspection operations. National Guard troops will provide a heightened security presence at all locations they are assigned.

INS will also train troops to perform cargo inspections, traffic management, and pedestrian control. These functions will be performed under the direct supervision of an INS officer. DOD personnel will not be armed nor will they provide a task that requires lethal or non-lethal force.

DOD will also mobilize, train, and deploy personnel to assist the Border Patrol through such activities as terrain and trend analysis and assisting with focusing its deployment of resources in areas of serious threat to achieve the greatest impact.

DOD will provide a limited number of rotary wing aircraft, including aircrew and ground maintenance personnel to support the Border Patrol mission. Crews will conduct and support basic observation flights in six Border Patrol sectors along the northern border or will transport Border patrol agents responding to locations of illegal border crossings.

As part of this agreement, INS will provide the necessary funding for DOD support to uphold higher levels of security at the nation’s borders. Presently, through the support of the FY 2002 budget and the counter-terrorism supplemental, INS is in the process of preparing to deploy additional permanent resources to improve security along the northern border.

HOUSE PASSES FLAWED 245(i) EXTENSION

On March 12, 2002, the House narrowly passed a bill that would extend Section 245(i). This provision would allow undocumented aliens to adjust status in the US instead of proceeding to a US consulate for the green card.

Section 245(i) was last extended until April 30, 2001. Many were critical about the short window of opportunity – December 21, 2000 to April 30, 2001 – leaving little room for people to file applications before the deadline.

The House’s current measure is severely flawed, but sends an important signal that America can still be pro-immigrant despite the September 11 terrorist attacks. While the measure appears to extend Section 245(i) until November 30, 2002 (or four months after the INS issues regulations implementing this law, whichever is earliest) many will not qualify because of the additional requirement that eligibility for Section 245(i) be established prior to August 15, 2001. For people who are submitting a family-based application, the new provision would require that the “familial relationship that is the basis of the application” existed before August 15, 2001.

People who are submitting an employment-based application would have to prove that a labor certification was submitted prior to August 15, 2001. The requirement that an application had been previously filed will render this extension meaningless for employment-based applications.

Section 245(i) previously expired on April 30, 2001. It made little sense for an employer to submit a labor certification application on behalf of an employee who needed Section 245(i) after April 30 as there was no program in place. Even ethical and cautious immigration attorneys advised their clients to wait until Congress passed a definitive measure. Unfortunately, the measure that the House passed on March 12 betrayed this justified caution.

The new measure was largely motivated by President Bush’ s March 22 meeting with Mexican President Vincente Fox. While Section 245(i) is likely to benefit people from any country, Mexicans are likely to gain the most. The measure, however, falls short of far bolder proposals that have emerged from ongoing negotiations between Mexico and United States to grant greater legal rights to millions of undocumented Mexicans immigrants as well as expand guest worker programs for Mexican and other workers. Even though flawed, Section 245(i) is a step in the right direction as it signifies that there is little support for the restrictionist agenda of anti-immigration forces. It is also heartening to note that lawmakers are able to distinguish between immigrants, even undocumented, who work hard to build this nation and terrorists who seek to destroy it.

Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican Congressman from Colorado, is fast emerging as a leading voice on the Hill for anti-immigrant groups. He said that the bill would “invite future terrorists to exploit lax enforcement of the immigration laws.” His own party leaders, however, such as Republican Dick Armey of Texas, the House Republican leader, think otherwise. “The bill sends a message to the world that our country will be a beacon to all who love freedom and the opportunity to live, work and raise a family,” Mr. Armey said. Although most Democrats supported the legislation, they would have preferred a permanent extension of Section 245(i). The short extension will again lead to much confusion in communities about when people must apply and who is eligible. Furthermore, notarios and other unauthorized practitioners will take advantage of the confusion generated by this imperfect and limited extension.

Unfortunately, the new version of Section 245(i) will provide benefits to a very limited group of people. Section 245(i) is not an amnesty program as the anti-immigrant forces make it out to be. People would only be able to take advantage of Section 245(i) if they have an approved family- or employment-based immigration visa petition. The program would allow them to obtain green cards in the US rather than leave this country and face the dreaded 3- or 10-year bars against reentry into the US.

The bill will only become effective once the Senate passes a similar measure and the President signs it. The President has always been a great supporter of Section 245(i) and the Senate had previously voted for a similar provision.

Congress Sanctions Affidavit of Support from Alternative Sponsor

The House of Representatives approved wholeheartedly the H.R. 1892, the Family Sponsor Immigration Act on 26, February 2002. This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for the acceptance of an affidavit of support from another eligible sponsor if the original sponsor has died and the Attorney General has determined for humanitarian reasons that the original sponsor’s classification petition should not be revoked.

The Family Sponsor Immigration Act comes close on the heels of the Patriot Act signed by the President during last fall. In the wake of the Sept 11 tragedy, when thousands of lives were lost on the collapsing of the World Trade Center, the Patriot Act contained important provisions to extend visas and filing of deadlines for the alien relatives of the Sept 11 victims who had already initiated the immigration process. This new bill ensures that the immigration process can still continue on the unfortunate event of death of the sponsor provided the Attorney General endorses on compassionate grounds and a qualifying relative of the deceased sponsor files the affidavit of support.

Millions of immigrants every year cherish realization of the ‘American Dream’. They follow all the rules of the immigration process and wait patiently. They will now not be left in the lurch if their sponsor has an untimely death.