Senator to testify on his objections to border security bill

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who has singlehandedly held up Senate consideration of a comprehensive border security bill since last year, may be the sole witness Friday before the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, which has scheduled a hearing that morning on the legislation.

Byrd lodged an objection late last year to a request to approve the legislation, crafted jointly by Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Immigration Subcommittee ranking member Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., arguing it must first be subject to debate or amendment on the floor.

The measure, which was preconferenced among lawmakers of both chambers, was approved unanimously in the House in December.

Byrd's objection, which appears to be the only obstacle to approving the measure through unanimous consent in the Senate, centers on a provision of the House-passed bill extending the 245(i) visa program, his aides said. That program allows already qualified aliens to pay a fine to stay in the United States while they apply for their legal permanent residency. The House approved a modest extension of that program.

Byrd has not articulated his concerns in depth. However, the 245(i) provisions have come under fire from groups advocating a moratorium on U.S. immigration, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, as encouraging illegal immigration and providing a loophole for terrorists to reside permanently in the country.

Advocates with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Immigration Forum fired back last week, saying Section 245(i) "does not operate independently of the long- standing provisions of our immigration laws that make known terrorists inadmissible to, and deportable from, our country."

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