A border enforcement bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives takes steps to stem illegal immigration and end a lottery program that provides visas to thousands from countries that send few immigrants to the United States. The legislation, billed as a border protection, anti-terrorism and illegal immigration control act, includes such measures as enlisting military and local law enforcement help in stopping illegal entrants and requiring employers to verify the legal status of their workers. It also authorizes the building of a fence along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.
But it put off consideration of a guest worker program and the issue of what to do with the 11 million undocumented people already in the U.S. The vote was 239-182 on Friday, with opposition coming from Democrats and some Republicans upset by the exclusion of the guest worker issue and other Republicans wanting tougher border control measures.
The issue next moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, says he will bring up immigration legislation in February that will provide a framework for guest worker ideas. Bush praised the House for approving the bill. "America is a nation built on the rule of law, and this bill will help us protect our borders and crack down on illegal entry into the United States," he said in a statement. "I urge the Senate to take action on immigration reform so that I can sign a good bill into law."
One measure that Republican leaders wouldn't allow a vote on was a volatile proposal to deny citizenship to babies born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants. The House also voted 273-148 to end the diversity visa lottery program that's open to countries that send few immigrants to the United States. Opponents said it was susceptible to fraud and could be a way for terrorists to enter the country.
The House bill would beef up border security with the help of local law enforcement and military technology, impose tougher penalties for smuggling and re-entry, and end the "catch and release" policy for illegal non-Mexicans. It makes drunken driving convictions a deportable offense. The bill makes unlawful presence in the United States, currently a civil offense, a felony. An amendment to reduce the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor was defeated, with many Democrats voting against the proposal in protest over subjecting people who have overstayed their visas to any criminal charges.
On Thursday, the House approved an amendment calling for construction of a fence in parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The most sweeping provision of the House bill would require all employers in the country, more than 7 million, to submit Social Security numbers and other information to a national data base to verify the legal status of workers, reports the AP. N.U.