House passes bill tightening restrictions on immigrants

February 11, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Signaling a potentially bruising congressional battle on immigration reform, the House passed a bill yesterday that would virtually bar states from issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, tighten the rules for asylum and close a hole in the border fence between California and Mexico.

The bill passed 261-161, with 42 Democrats joining 219 Republicans in support of the measure. But the prospects for its becoming law remain uncertain. The House vote underscored the divide between it and the Senate on immigration policy.

Many House Republicans are determined to crack down on illegal immigrants and raise the bar for proving a credible case for asylum. But the GOP-controlled Senate is laying the groundwork for taking up President Bush's proposal for creating a "guest worker" program that could legalize the status of millions of illegal workers.

Immigration policy "is the issue that will boil up and spill over and split [Republicans], if the administration continues to want to drive down this direction," said Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican on the House Immigration Reform Caucus.

This increasingly vocal group, mostly Republicans, advocates cracking down on illegal immigrants and limiting legal immigration. They have arrayed themselves against the White House and those Republicans and Democrats who advocate a guest worker program or measures that would create a path for citizenship for at least some of the estimated 8 million immigrants living here illegally.

During debate on the bill, Republicans insisted it was a law enforcement and border security package aimed at keeping terrorists out of the United States. Democrats said the measure, titled the Real ID Act by its sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, was a harsh piece of anti-immigrant legislation.

The bill would require states to verify that any drivers license applicant is legally in the United States before issuing a license that could be used for purposes of federal identification.

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