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.