From the Los Angeles Times
GOP senators to introduce toughest-yet immigration package
Bills would mandate prison time for illegal border crossings and compel English in dealing with federal agencies.
By Nicole Gaouette
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 5, 2008
Senate Republicans are set to announce today the hardest-hitting
package of immigration enforcement measures seen yet -- one that would
require jail time for illegal immigrants caught crossing the border,
make it harder for them to open bank accounts and compel them to
communicate in English when dealing with federal agencies.
of the bills stand little chance of being debated in the
Democratic-controlled Congress. But the move by some of the Senate's
leading Republicans underscores how potent the immigration issue
remains, particularly in a presidential election year.
bills give Republicans a way to put pressure on the Democratic and
Republican presidential candidates to take a tougher stance on
immigration. They also reflect a shift toward harsher immigration
rhetoric and legislative proposals from both parties since Congress
failed to pass a comprehensive overhaul in 2007.
The package --
an enforcement smorgasbord assembled by at least eight lawmakers --
consists of 11 bills, but it could expand to as many as 14. Some
elements echo House bills, but others go beyond House proposals.
would discourage states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal
immigrants by docking 10% of highway funding from states that continue
to do so.
Another would extend the presence of the National
Guard on the border, and a third would end language assistance at
federal agencies and the voting booth for people with limited English
A bill by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is leading
the effort, would impose a maximum two-year prison sentence on someone
caught illegally crossing the border a second time.
is to reinforce the idea that most of us here feel that we need to make
enforcement and border security a first step to solving the overall
problem," said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), one of the sponsors.
Congress usually avoids tough legislation during an election year,
Vitter insisted that he and his colleagues could still get something
done. "There are concrete steps we can take. None of us see any reason
to waste this time," he said.
Other bills in the package would:
* Block federal funding to cities that bar their police from asking about immigration status.
Give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use
information from the Social Security Administration to target illegal
* Require construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border, not including vehicle barriers.
* Impose sanctions on countries that refuse to repatriate their citizens.
* Deport any immigrant, legal or illegal, for one drunk-driving conviction.
* Enable local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws.
Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.),
said the Republican proposal "falls far short of what is needed."
Democrats want to combine enforcement with a guest-worker program and a
way to deal with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the
U.S. Reid "continues to support legislation that is tough on people who
break the law, fair to taxpayers and practical to implement," Manley
But Democrats have also begun embracing a tougher stance
on immigration. A confidential study assembled for the Democratic
leadership earlier this year urged them to start using tougher
language. Democrats have focused on offering opportunity to immigrants,
but the study by two public-policy groups urged them to begin speaking
in terms of "requiring" illegal immigrants to become legal and about
what's best for the United States.
Many House Democrats have
gone a step further, endorsing an enforcement-only bill by freshman
Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) that would bolster border
security and require employers to verify their workers' legal status
with an electronic verification system.
The SAVE (Secure
America through Verification and Enforcement) Act has drawn 140
cosponsors, 48 of whom are Democrats, many of them vulnerable freshmen
who won seats from Republicans.
The Democratic leadership
dislikes Shuler's bill and has refused to schedule a debate. Republican
leaders are considering collecting signatures for a special petition
that requires House leaders to bring a bill up for debate if 218
members sign. There are 198 Republicans.
director of the Immigration Policy Center, said Senate Republicans
might be trying to match their House colleagues. "They might feel
they're being upstaged by House Republicans," she said. But she also
suggested that the Senate bills could provide political protection to
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has clinched the GOP presidential
Conservatives consider McCain soft on immigration.
McCain, along with Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary
Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, has backed
giving illegal immigrants some form of legal status, which
conservatives consider "amnesty."
If McCain endorsed the
Senate package, that could "create a platform for McCain to look tough
on immigration, create distance from Ted Kennedy [D-Mass.] and erect a
shield around the amnesty charge," Kelley said.
Sessions and Vitter, the bills are being introduced by GOP Sens. Lamar
Alexander of Tennessee, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Saxby Chambliss of
Georgia, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Elizabeth Dole of North
Carolina, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma
and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times