Senate Bill Challenges Immigration Debate

Senate bill challenges immigration debate

By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
November 16, 2007

A Democratic senator yesterday introduced an enforcement-only immigration bill, joining forces with House Democrats and Republicans to try to shake up the immigration debate.

Sen. Mark Pryor's bill is identical to the enforcement bill Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, introduced last week with strong bipartisan support. Taken together, the bills challenge the notion that the debate is a partisan fight in which Republicans want stricter enforcement while Democrats only want a broad bill that includes a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

“Border patrol is the first step. Expanding the employee-verification program is the second. And beefing up interior enforcement is the third,” Mr. Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, said in introducing the Senate bill.

The bill would boost the U.S. Border Patrol to more than 22,000 agents, but also would pay off college loans to help recruitment and retention and make sure the Border Patrol can fill those slots. The bill also requires businesses to use E-Verify, the federal database to check work eligibility.

Mr. Pryor voted against President Bush's broad immigration proposal earlier this year, helping kill the bill in the Senate. That bill would have granted illegal aliens a path to citizenship, allowed in millions of new foreign workers and redrawn the legal immigration system to favor needed skills.

Yesterday Mr. Pryor said his goal is to convince Americans that the government can enforce the laws already on the books and secure the borders.

As of now, Mr. Pryor is the only member sponsoring his bill in the Senate, but Mr. Shuler has been rapidly adding support in the House. His office said he has 107 co-sponsors.

The new bill also would add more prosecutors and judges to handle immigration cases and increase detention capacity so immigration authorities can detain more illegal aliens.

The immigration issue is heating up across the country, with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, this week bowing to public pressure and scrapping his plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

But Rep. Vito J. Fossella wants to make sure Mr. Spitzer doesn't also go back on his deal with the Homeland Security Department to make the rest of the state's licenses for legal residents compliant with Real ID.

In a letter, the New York Republican told Mr. Spitzer to live up to his agreement, adding that the governor had said following Real ID requirements would give the state the most-secure licenses.

Real ID requires that licenses be counterfeit-resistant and that their issuance be tightly controlled.

An official in Mr. Spitzer's office said this week the backlash over licenses for illegals showed them they should step back from the issue, and let the state Legislature also weigh in on whether to proceed with Real ID.

The agreement between New York and DHS allows either part to opt out with 30 days' notice, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told The Washington Times this week he expects Mr. Spitzer to honor his commitment.