House panel sets up border security floor vote next week
Bill likely to pass full House, but unlikely to gain traction in Senate; Democrats decry lack of guest worker program.
The House Judiciary Committee Thursday passed border security and immigration enforcement legislation by a 23-15 party-line vote, as Democrats criticized a bill pushed by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., for failing to include a guestworker program.
The bill goes to the floor, where it is expected to pass, but it likely will not gain traction in the Senate, where leaders plan to bring up a comprehensive immigration bill early next year.
The guestworker issue splits Republicans, and Sensenbrenner sidestepped the issue rather than ignite an intra-party fight.
The bill would tighten rules that require employers to verify that their employees are in the country legally, something Democrats support. But they said without a guest worker program, employers would run short of workers, especially in industries that rely on undocumented workers. Democrats also faulted increases in mandatory minimum jail sentences.
"This bill is so heinous and extreme, the Democrats on this committee agreed it can't be fixed," said Judiciary ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich.
The centerpiece of Sensenbrenner's wide-ranging bill would make it mandatory for all employers to verify the status of new employees within two years; within six years, employers would have to verify the status of all employees. Other provisions would boost penalties for human trafficking and increase the number of deportable offenses.
Sensenbrenners's bill includes a bill authored by Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., which his committee previously adopted, that ends the "catch-and-release" program and orders the Homeland Security Department to come up with a plan to secure the borders.
Sensenbrenner said his bill strikes a balance. "Our nation is a nation of immigrants, but it is also a nation of laws," Sensenbrenner said. "They are not mutually exclusive."
The bill, which survived the markup with almost no changes, is expected to go to the House for a vote next Thursday. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., blasted that timetable, saying House leaders were rushing to complete a bill for political gains.
"Why are we passing a bill that will never pass the U.S. Senate?" he asked. "Perhaps it is the fear of being Dreier-ized or Campbell-ized," he added, referring to Rules Chairman Dreier and Rep. John Campbell, two California Republicans who have been criticized during their last elections for being too soft on immigration issues.