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GOP Advances Enforcement-First Approach for Border

The Senate will consider a 700-mile fence, and the House OKs a measure on photo IDs for voters.

September 21, 2006|Nicole Gaouette | Times Staff Writer

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

Republicans in both chambers said the steps were necessary 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 November midterm elections, in which many Republicans are making immigration a key issue.

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

In fiery debate on the House voting bill, Democrats argued that there were no data to show that illegal immigrants voted, and that the bill would disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority citizens who tended to support the Democratic Party.

Republicans countered that the voting 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 (R-Ind.). "Every illegal vote takes away the right of one American's vote."

The voter identification bill is unlikely to become law anytime soon because the Senate is not expected to consider the bill this session.

Since the House and Senate failed this summer to agree on a compromise to overhaul immigration laws, House Republicans have insisted on the need to pass enforcement measures before broader changes are made.

The enforcement-first approach appears to have won out, with some Senate Republicans who backed broader reform now 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," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said. He emphasized that "this is not enforcement only; this is enforcement first."

But Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who helped write parts of the Senate bill, said pursuing enforcement first could undermine support for a broader reorganization of the immigration system. "For those who think there's no need to do more, there would be little impetus" to consider broader reform, he said.

House leaders are expected to introduce three other immigration bills today that emphasize other aspects of enforcement.

One would affirm the "inherent authority" of state and local law enforcement to help enforce immigration laws. A second bill would allow the government to indefinitely detain immigrants who had served a jail sentence but who could not be deported. It would also let authorities deport or forbid entry to anyone they had reason to think belonged to a gang, whether the person had committed a crime or not. A third bill would make it a crime to build cross-border tunnels.

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

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

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she would like to amend the bill to add an agricultural guest worker program to help California farmers, who were having difficulty finding the manpower to harvest crops.

House debate on the photo identification measure was intense before it was approved 228 to 196. The California delegation voted along party lines.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) ridiculed the suggestion that illegal immigrants voted. "Illegal aliens are sneaking across the border for a job, not to vote," she said, arguing that requirements for photo identification were so expensive that they could keep the poor and some minorities from the polls.

But Rep. Charlie Norwood, a Georgia Republican, said that the issue "could likely determine the long-term fate of our republic. Tamper-proof ID is the only way to stop the influx of illegal voters into our system."

Democrats said there were no data to show whether voting by illegal immigrants was a problem. Norwood countered: "How the heck do we know we don't have any? We don't check."


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