WASHINGTON—Legislation to choke off illegal immigration, both at the border and in the workplace, cleared a key House committee Thursday despite strong objections from Democrats who said immigration reform must also deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
The Judiciary Committee approved the measure on a party-line 23-15 vote, setting up a vote in the full House next week before Congress adjourns for the year.
The 169-page bill goes beyond increasing border patrol agents and equipment to enlist military support in border surveillance and reimburse local law enforcement in border areas for assistance in combatting alien smuggling and illegal entry.
It requires the Homeland Security Department to detain until removal all who try to enter the country illegally and sets new mandatory minimum sentences on smugglers and people convicted of re-entry after removal.
Illegal presence in the country, now a civil offense, would become a federal crime, and three drunken driving convictions would become a deportable offense for legal immigrants.
All employers in the country would be required to participate in a verification system under which the government would confirm that a worker or a job applicant has legal status.
The bill, said its sponsor, committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., “will help restore the integrity of our nation’s borders and re-establish respect for our laws by holding violators accountable.”