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GOP Is Against INS' Role in Security Plan

Terrorism: Rep. Armey proposes to split the agency's functions. Senate may not agree.

July 19, 2002|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Top House Republicans endorsed much of President Bush's government reorganization plan Thursday, but they rejected his proposal to move the troubled federal immigration service intact to a new domestic security department.

Under legislation drafted by House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), the responsibilities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now part of the Justice Department, would be divided. Border security functions would move to a new Department of Homeland Security, while immigration processing would remain at Justice.

Armey's proposal for the INS rejects the advice of Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and instead follows the recommendation of the House Judiciary Committee. The Bush administration had sought to move the entire INS to the new Cabinet department, arguing that border enforcement and immigration services were closely intertwined.

The Armey bill is to be considered today by a special nine-member panel of Republican and Democratic leaders. The panel, chaired by the majority leader, will then forward legislation to the House floor for debate and a vote, scheduled for next week.

Though Armey's endorsement of dividing the INS functions between two Cabinet departments is likely to carry great weight in the House, the proposal will meet resistance in the Senate.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and other senior lawmakers in that chamber want to keep the immigration service intact as a distinct unit within Homeland Security. The Senate is expected to consider its own security bill after the House acts.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman for homeland security, said: ''We are pleased that Congress continues to move quickly on enacting the president's proposal.'' He added that the White House would continue to work with lawmakers on specifics of the plan.

On several other key questions, Armey largely followed Bush's blueprint.

Like the president, Armey seeks to move the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency into the proposed Department of Homeland Security.

Those portions of the majority leader's bill reject recommendations made by some usually influential lawmakers from both parties. For instance, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week voted to keep the Coast Guard in the Transportation Department and leave FEMA independent.

The 75-member committee, the largest in Congress, contended that shifting the two agencies to a new department could give short shrift to some of their missions that have little to do with domestic security. The committee, which currently oversees both the Coast Guard and FEMA, also was acting in part to protect its turf.

Armey supported Bush on several management proposals as well, trimming--but not killing--the president's requests for enhanced executive authority in the department. For instance, Armey said the new department should be given discretionary power for two years over 2% of the money Congress appropriates for homeland security programs. Bush had sought an indefinite discretionary authority of 5%.

With slight modifications, Armey also agreed with a Bush proposal to exempt from public view information about homeland security voluntarily supplied to the department by private businesses. And he said that the administration should be allowed to appoint up to eight assistant secretaries in the new department without the usual requirement of Senate confirmation; the administration had sought approval for up to 10.

However, Armey's bill would strengthen privacy guarantees in ways the administration had not sought. It would ban national identification cards, even though Bush this week announced a proposal to set national standards for licensing motorists. It would also prohibit "Operation TIPS," a federal initiative that Armey said ''could be construed to promote citizens spying on one another.''

On the immigration question, Armey is likely to face opposition from several interest groups, the White House and Senate Democrats--even if he manages to win House approval.

Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based organization that supports immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, said splitting the INS between two Cabinet departments was ''a recipe for disaster.''

But lawmakers said that homeland security reorganization should not slow immigration reform.

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