Congress looks at immigration bills

Senate agrees to consider border fence

House passes bill requiring ID to vote

September 21, 2006|By Nicole Gaouette | Nicole Gaouette,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Republicans pushing for tougher means to stem illegal immigration got a boost yesterday when the Senate agreed to consider a bill that would build a fence along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border and the House approved a measure that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Republicans in both chambers stressed the need for these steps to protect the United States from illegal immigrants entering the country or trying to corrupt the voting process.

Democrats dismissed the moves as political ploys aimed at the midterm elections, in which many Republicans are making immigration a top issue.

"What we are doing here today is about November," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in reference to the fence bill.

In often fiery debate on the House voting bill, Democrats argued that there is no data to show that illegal immigrants vote and that the bill would disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority citizens who tend to back the Democratic Party.

Republicans countered that the measure was necessary.

"We have 12 million illegal aliens in this country. Many of them, we believe, have been voting illegally," said Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican. "Every illegal vote takes away the right of one American's vote."

Since the House and Senate failed to agree on a compromise for overhauling immigration laws this summer, House Republicans have insisted on the need for passing enforcement measures before any broader changes are made. They are proceeding with a series of small bills, copied from provisions of the enforcement-focused immigration bill they passed last year.

Many Republicans backed the Senate bill that went beyond enforcement measures to include a program to legalize most illegal immigrants in the U.S. and a guest-worker program to supply migrant-hungry businesses with the labor they need.

The enforcement-first approach appears to have won out, with some Senate Republicans who backed broader reform echoing their House colleagues on the need to take up enforcement first and pass the fence bill, which cleared the House on Sept. 14.

"The Secure Fence Act will have a significant impact on our security," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican. But he stressed that "this is not enforcement only, this is enforcement first."

The Senate voted 94-0 to begin debate on the fence bill, which would require stretches of double-layered fencing, vehicle barriers and ground sensors covering one-third of the 2,000-mile southern border. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to certify that the border was secure within 18 months of the bill's implementation.

Frist said he would like to begin debate on the fence measure today and that he hadn't decided whether to allow senators the chance amend the bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said she would like to amend the fence bill to add an agricultural guest-worker program to help California farmers who are having difficulty finding the manpower to harvest their crops.

House debate on the photo identification measure was intense before the 228-196 vote approving the measure.

Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, ridiculed the suggestion that illegal immigrants try to sneak into the polls. "Illegal aliens are sneaking across the border for a job, not to vote," she said, arguing that requirements for photo identification are expensive enough to keep the poor from the polls.

Nicole Gaouette writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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