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Lawmakers Vow New Push for Stronger US Immigration Controls

Republican lawmakers who were unsuccessful in having stronger immigration provisions included in intelligence reform legislation are vowing to make the issue a top priority in the new 109th Congress in January.

While it does contain a number of steps to bolster U.S. homeland security, the intelligence reform bill did not go as far as many lawmakers wanted in the area of immigration.

Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner had pushed for measures aimed at ensuring that undocumented immigrants could not receive U.S. driver's licenses, and tougher laws on political asylum.

His provisions were included in the House version of intelligence reform. But there was opposition from the White House, which wanted these issues addressed in separate legislation next year.

After weeks of negotiations to reconcile Senate and House versions of the bill, the controversial immigration provisions were removed.

This led to passionate protests during House debate, including these remarks by Arizona Republican, J. D. Hayworth.

"Either do it right or don't do it," said Mr. Hayworth. "It is sad, but necessary to reject this bill because it fails to deal with preventing terrorist attacks by understanding that border security and national security are one in the same."

Mr. Hayworth was among 67 House Republicans, and eight Democrats who voted against the intelligence bill, saying without stronger steps to ensure potential terrorists cannot enter the country, or abuse U.S. documentation, intelligence reform would be incomplete.

Congressman Sensenbrenner intends to introduce legislation when the 109th Congress convenes in January to correct what he calls the band-aid approach of the intelligence reform bill. Here, he addresses the question of political asylum.

"Irresponsible judges have made asylum laws vulnerable to fraud and abuse," he said. " We will ensure that terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, no longer receive a free pass to move around America's communities when they show up at our gates claiming asylum."

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan lists what the intelligence bill does achieve, including more border patrol and immigration enforcement agents, and criminal penalties for harboring illegal immigrants.

He says the president is committed to working with Congress on asylum and drivers license issues:

"He talked about, in his most recent letter, how he looked forward to talking to Congress early next year to look at ways we can improve our asylum laws as well as improve standards for issuing driver's licenses, and he felt that is an issue that needs to be discussed closely with the states," said Mr. McClellan.

In its report issued last July, the September 11th Commission recommended steps to set minimum standards for key identification documents.

It noted that all, but one, of the hijackers of four aircraft on September 11, 2001 acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud.

Immigration is an especially sensitive issue for lawmakers from U.S. states bordering Mexico, where there are strong negative public sentiments concerning people crossing into the United States illegally.

But feelings are also running high nationally about the relationship between the immigration reform issue and national security more than three years after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.