Thursday, September 28, 2006

House immigration legislation stalled in Senate

A collection of last minute anti-immigration bills, passed by the House, appear to be facing challenges as they try to move through the Senate before the fall break.

Unable to reach consensus with the Senate on immigration reform for the past four months, House Republicans chose instead to attach bits and pieces of many of the more controversial measures from the Sensenbrenner immigration bill they passed last December to appropriations bills that must be passed by both houses before the October campaign break.

But the plan appears to be backfiring.

Republican Senate leaders, unwilling to be pawns in Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's eleventh hour election year ploy, have threatened to join Democrats in blocking any legislation attached to vital appropriations bills for homeland security and defense.

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As of Tuesday, there were three must-pass pieces of legislation pending: defense and homeland security appropriations and the annual Department of Defense authorization. Each year, when the few must-pass bills move forward, there is a major temptation to throw on all kinds of extraneous provisions; when lawmakers can identify a train that is both leaving the station and sure to reach its destination, everyone has baggage they try to toss on board. Each year, responsible party leaders resist most of these measures, to preserve the integrity of the process and to keep shoddy bills with no vetting and no broad support from either being railroaded or inserted surreptitiously.

This year, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) has vowed to protect the defense authorization bill — but House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has other ideas. Hastert says he will kill the bill, doing damage to the Department of Defense and conceivably to troops in the field, unless Warner and his fellow senators cave and tack on an entire federal court security bill and another House anti-immigration bill.

The anti-immigration bill would allow indefinite detention of illegal immigrants protected under political asylum provisions, and it would deny court access to many.

LA Times

Hastert also added legislation to make it easier to deport those accused of gang related activity. Additionaly the House Speaker also added a provision to allow federal judges to carry concealed firearms in courts.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Warner voices his "strong objection" to "the desire of a number of colleagues, almost all non-members of the defense committees, to have the conferees agree to include in the conference report nine or more bills all of which ... are 'out-of-scope'," meaning they are not germane to the underlying substance of the bill.

He says that at least three Republican members of the House-Senate conference committee considering the defense bill would refuse to sign onto legislation that included such measures, which means there would not be enough votes to pass the legislation out of conference and on for a final vote in both chambers.


Warner added that he wanted to keep the defense spending bill bipartisan during a time of war.

Hastert also added immigration provisions to the homeland security appropriations bill.

The half dozen or so measures slated for inclusion in the homeland security bill all grow out of the series of field hearings GOP committee chairs held over the summer, many in districts facing tight races this November.

"I think there are some things that should be in that bill," Hastert told a press briefing Tuesday, "Things that we think are commonsense things that ought to happen. But we have problems with the Senate."

The provisions include language that would empower state and local police forces to investigate, arrest, detain, or transfer to federal custody anyone found in the country illegally or in violation of their immigration status; a bill that would make it a crime to tunnel under the border; and other legislation intended to make it easier to deport or deny entry to illegal immigrant gang members.

House leaders also reportedly want changes to language in the homeland security bill that would move back by 19 months a deadline for the introduction of stricter entry requirement for U.S. and Canadian citizens on

Senate Judiciary Chairmen, Arlen Spector, whose committee must approve the bill, voiced concern about Hastert's attempts to use the bill as a way to pass legislation that would under normal circumstances could never pass Senate muster.

Specter, who wrote to Frist, Hastert and the two chairmen of the separate committee which Monday night voted to approve the homeland security appropriations bill, voiced "grave concern" about "altering an already-approved conference report," and likewise threatened to remove his signature if changes were made.

Without his signature, an amended bill would not get to the floor.


Without the support in the committees, the Houses legislation will most likely not see the light of day.

This is not the case with the bill to build 700 miles of walls along the southern border. Originally attached to President Bush's torture bill that would allow the US to disregard Geneva conventions in its treatment of those held at the Guantanamo detention facility, it was removed in order to expedite the torture bills passage. It will now be a stand alone item that could pass through the Senate before weeks end. Although the House and Senate agreed Tuesday to devote $1.2 billion to the wall project, only $250 million can be used until the Department of Homeland Security tells Congress how the remaining $950 million would be spent. That most likely won't happen until next year.

The Senate had (already) approved $1.8 billion for 370 miles of fence and 500 miles of vehicle barriers.(in its comprehensive immigration bill, back in May)

"Some would say that, 'Well the fencing will probably take two years to complete anyway and we can come back next year' but ... promises of appropriations in the future often don't materialize," complained Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.


The next two days will tell. House Republicans have gambled by making immigration one of the cornerstones in their re-election campaigns this November. Now they may have to go home with little to show for their efforts. It appears that most of their proposals will never get out of committee in the Senate and the wall building bill will go largely unfunded.

In fact, they would have gotten a better deal had they just passed the Senate's comprehensive bill in the first place. At least they would have been assured $1.8 billion for their walls. Now, as it stands, the best they can hope for is $1.2 billion….if they ever see that at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard, after the passing of the Border Fence & Funding for it, Republicans declaring victory over the 'immigration debate'.

"We win!" one Congressman stated- I can't recall who it was. He went on to explain that there would be no more 'debates', because the House got what they wanted.

Although I'm sure this 'victory' statement was partially due to the upcoming elections, I've always seen the fence as their #1 goal.

Block entry & escape, push locally for ordinances & enforcement, do 'sweeps', lock em up & toss them out. Once they get to the lock & toss part- those individuals will no longer be welcomed if they then attempt to 'legally' enter.

Problem solved...Americanism wins, Americans loose.