Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, February 11, 2005
The House yesterday passed a bill to clamp down on illegal aliens’ access to driver’s licenses and judges’ ability to deny asylum, after adding a provision to make sure that more of the illegal aliens ordered to be deported actually are sent home.
It marks the first foray into immigration issues for the new Congress, and the crackdown drew bipartisan support, passing 261-161, with 42 Democrats joining 219 Republicans in favor of it. Eight Republicans voted with 152 Democrats and the chamber’s lone independent against it.
The bill, called the Real ID Act, would prevent the federal government from accepting state-issued identifications if the state makes them available to illegal aliens. About a dozen states allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, and although the bill does not force them to change, it creates a strong incentive to do so.
The bill also limits some asylum claims and gives judges more leeway to deny others. It also removes the environmental block that is preventing completion of a 14-mile section of U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Diego.
Mr. Bush announced this week that he “strongly” supports Mr. Sensenbrenner’s bill, and House Republican leaders have promised to attach it to the first “must-pass” piece of legislation that comes through the chamber, which most likely will be the emergency spending measure for the Iraq war. But Senate Republicans appear to be wary of that approach.
In the House, Republicans were able to use the rules of debate to prevent a broader fight over immigration policy, but that approach could not happen in the Senate.
In a voice vote yesterday, the House adopted an amendment to crack down on illegal aliens’ ability to avoid a deportation order.
Many are released on their own recognizance and then never show up to be deported. The amendment requires that such an alien post bond or that a judge certify in writing that the alien is not a flight risk or a threat to national security.
Republicans pointed to a federal government report that said only 13 percent of the aliens who judges order to be deported actually leave the country.
But several Democrats said the system of bonds and bondsmen reminded them of the language in the fugitive slave laws, which allowed agents to recover slaves who had escaped to northern states.
“The truly frightening part about this legislation is it smacks of that,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said the provision will “endanger civil rights and create fear in the immigrant community.”