House Dems split over immigration, border security moves

By Chris Strohm CongressDaily July 17, 2007

Almost three weeks after a comprehensive immigration bill died in the Senate, House Democrats remain divided over how to proceed with their legislation while nearly three dozen House Republicans are pushing a bill specifically focused on border enforcement and cracking down on illegal immigrants.
House Democrats said they are evaluating whether to advance individual bills dealing with immigration and border security matters, but no consensus has emerged.
"We're doing an assessment of members, both in the majority and the minority, and trying to get a handle on what members want to pursue," said House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "There are ongoing discussions."
She added: "We're not going to do comprehensive immigration reform."
"We have no shortage of discrete issues to deal with," said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. "We're thinking about them; we're talking about them, but I'm not prepared to talk publicly about it."
Lofgren said discussions include whether to pursue the so-called Dream bill as stand-alone legislation. "That's one of things we're trying to do an assessment of," she said.
The Dream bill, which Lofgren co-sponsored, would provide a path to citizenship for students who are illegal immigrants if they entered the United States before they turned 16 and lived in the country for at least five years.
The students would be granted temporary legal status for six years during which they must attend college or serve in the military. They would then be eligible to receive a green card.
Berman said he would also like to see legislation dealing with workforce issues, such as H-1B visas or the AgJOBS bill to address a shortage of agricultural workers.
But Lofgren said it did not appear likely that any legislation would move before the end of the month. "I doubt very much that there would be time ... to bring to the floor something in the House before the August recess."
House Homeland Security Border Subcommittee Chairman Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., said it is "a good time to take a breather" from doing immigration and border security legislation.
Sanchez was working on a border security bill to go with immigration reform legislation. But she no longer plans on marking up a bill since the Senate's massive immigration bill was pulled off the floor agenda.
Sanchez will evaluate doing legislation in September to make improvements to existing border security programs. She said she is especially focused on addressing delays and complications with the Homeland Security Department's SBInet program and Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.
SBInet is focused on integrating technology, personnel and infrastructure to beef up the nation's border security. The TWIC program aims to give up to one million workers at U.S. seaports new identification cards with chips containing their information and a biometric fingerprint.
Meanwhile, a contingent of Republicans led by House Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., and House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, formally introduced a border enforcement bill last week.
Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., signed on as a co-sponsor, giving the bill some weight with the GOP leadership.
"King still believes the bill is as relevant as ever," a GOP aide said. "We're expecting to make a strong push on the legislation."
But the fate of the bill depends on what Democrats decide to do with it. So supporters are evaluating their options.
"There are a number of important provisions in the bill that could be moved as amendments or stand alone bills as well," the aide said. "Ranking member King is looking at a number of options."