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US steps-up the criminalization of non-citizens

House Aims at Kids in Immigration Bill Debate
Wednesday March 20, 1996 11:31 PM EST

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The House, debating a controversial immigration bill, voted Wednesday to allow states to deny schooling for children of illegal aliens and to block federal welfare benefits for American-born children of illegal aliens.

The votes reflected wide concern in states such as California over the burden to state and federal governments of providing benefits to "illegals."

The House also supported establishment of a program under which employers will be able to verify with a governmment data base whether job-seekers can legally work in the United States.

The pilot program had aroused widespread opposition among both conservatives and civil libertarians as the start of a "big brother" national identity system.

In heated debate, members argued that children should not be made to suffer for the fact that their parents entered the country illegally.

But in a rare address to the House, Speaker Newt Gingrich argued forcefully for an amendment by Elton Gallegly, Republican of California, to allow states to deny children of illegal aliens the right to attend public schools.

Gingrich said that requiring states to provide their schooling was a federal "unfunded mandate" -- an order from Washington that the federal government does not pay for.

Citing California's Proposition 187 clamping down on benefits for illegal aliens, Gingrich said: "I think it's wrong for us to be the welfare capital of the world.

"Come to America for opportunity. Do not come to America to live off the law-abiding American taxpayer."

Rep Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, deplored "going after the kids" and Rep. Anthony Beilenson, also a Democrat from California, said the proposal was unwise and inhumane.

Democrat John Bryant of Texas accused Gingrich of seeking to take political advantage of the bipartisan bill by pushing through an amendment that could derail it.

The amendment was approved by a 257-163 vote.

The House defeated by 269-151 an amendment by Rep. Nydia Velasquez, Democrat of New York, to remove a provision barring undocumented alien parents from applying for welfare, including food stamps and Medicaid, for their American citizen children for the first seven years.

Velasquez said the bill "punishes innocent children", but Gallegly said the government should not reward persons in the country illegally.

Ohio Republican Steve Chabot's attempt to eliminate the employment verification plan was defeated 260-159. It would set up a pilot program in five of the seven states with the highest number of illegal immigrants.

The voluntary program, under which an employer would call a toll-free number to verify a job-seeker's right to work, united some liberals and conservatives in opposition.

Chabot charged that the goal was a national mandatory system under which the federal government "would assert the right to sign off on the employment of every citizen."

The bill's main architect, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, denied any intent to establish a national identity system and said the plan was aimed at cutting back on aliens getting jobs by means of false documents.

Debate on the bill will continue Thursday. The Senate has its own bill currently in committee.

House Passes Stripped-Down Immigration Bill
Thursday March 21, 1996 -- 9:06 PM EST

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The House Thursday approved a bill to tighten controls on illegal immigration into the United States after stripping out provisions that would have slashed legal admissions.

The bill, approved on a 333-87 vote, would strengthen border barriers and raise the number of border patrol agents and give states the option of denying public schooling for the children of illegal immigrants.

It would increase penalties for people smuggling, speed deportation and set up a controversial program to allow employers to verify that job-seekers are allowed to work.

Earlier the House had rejected, 238-183, a plan to slash legal immigration and sharply restrict family members whom naturalized Americans can bring into the country.

The reforms would have reduced legal immigration by about 30 percent by the year 2002. They were opposed by both liberals and conservatives.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee has already voted to split its immigration bill into two measures dealing separately with legal and illegal entry.

But the House bill's main architect, Rep Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, said the amendment approved Thursday would kill all hope of legal immigration reform this year.

The bill, months in the drafting, had been attacked by a wide range of groups, including civil libertarians and conservatives.

The White House said this week the administration had "serious concerns" about its legal immigration provisions but said many sections dealing with illegal immigrants were similar to those proposed by President Clinton.

Congressional passage of an illegal immigration bill the president could sign would give both Clinton and the Republican Congress a popular election-year achievement to present to voters deeply concerned about illegal immigration.

However, the bill's voluntary pilot program under which employers would check with a government database to find out if a job-seeker is allowed to work was criticized as the first step to a "big brother" national identity system.

The bill's backers denied the charge and said a verification system was needed to combat forged documents.

The amendment cutting out the legal immigration provisions, proposed by Republican Dick Chrysler of Michigan was supported by 75 Republicans, 162 Democrats and an independent; 158 Republicans and 25 Democrats voted against.

Supporters of the unified bill said restrictions on legal immigration were essential if the United States was to avoid severe social and quality-of-life problems in the next century brought on by rapid population growth.

They defended the bill's new family reunification rules designed to end "chain" migration in which parents and siblings are allowed to join naturalized Americans.

The bill would have limited reunification to "nuclear families" -- mostly spouses and unmarried children under 21, as well as parents of U.S. citizens provided they had health insurance.

But critics of the reform measures defended America's historic commitment to immigration.

"Legal immigration is the lifeblood of our country," said Democrat Jane Harman of California.

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