White House eyes action on borders, electronic IDs

White House officials are hoping that legislation targeting immigration issues such as border enforcement and electronic identification cards will gain congressional approval this year.

"We are very much looking to pass a bill in Congress" that is workable and can be implemented, Greg Jacob, special assistant to the president for domestic policy, said during the second day of an annual homeland security conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.

Ryan Bounds, chief of staff at the Justice Department office of legal policy, said the United States has doubled its funding for border support and enforcement in recent years. When illegal aliens enter the United States, it contributes to identity theft and national security concerns, he said.

"One of the ... improvements we are seeking is a mandatory employer electronic system," Bounds noted.

The official also said the Bush administration is interested in the creation of a biometric-based, tamper-proof identification card and supports increased penalties for employing illegal aliens. Additionally, the White House has launched task forces to curtail illegal immigration rings, Bounds said.

Randy Johnson, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the group supports a new employment verification system.

Officials also discussed how to curb the incentive for illegal aliens to enter the United States and how to get them to come out of the dark without rewarding them. Another issue is how to fulfill the talent needs that U.S. companies seek and the appropriate way to allow foreigners, in some cases, to fill any industry voids.

During a Thursday session, Philip Perry, general counsel at the Homeland Security Department, said substantial congressional activity can be expected on the immigration front this year. He specifically mentioned issues related to border security, workplace enforcement and a temporary worker program.

Legislation "is not going to be easy to implement," Perry said.

On Friday, C. Stewart Verdery from the Monument Policy Group said it is hard to imagine that Congress will adjourn without passing an immigration law.

Both Jacob and Verdery, a former assistant Homeland Security secretary for border and transportation security policy and planning, said immigration reform is particularly challenging because it has so many challenging facets.

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