CHN: Anti-Immigration Provisions Part of Iraq Spending Bill

The most serious anti-immigrant legislation in nearly ten years is included in the House version of a must-pass bill funding the ongoing war in Iraq. The House voted to include anti-immigration provisions (known as REAL ID) as part of the Iraq war supplemental spending bill, agreed to on March 16 ( HR 1268 ) . Advocates for immigrants charge that REAL ID is sweeping in scope and weakens civil rights protections while unnecessarily punishing immigrants.
The Senate declined to include REAL ID in its Iraq supplemental bill, which passed by a vote of 99 to 0 on April 21. Instead, the Senate approved an amendment offered by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) exempting certain seasonal workers from a cap on the number of H-2B visas issued. The Mikulski amendment is aimed at helping the summer tourist industry and seafood harvesters.

Negotiators pushed hard to produce a conference report by the end of this week (when the Senate goes into recess) but they have thus far been able to reach agreement. It is likely the conference agreement will be worked out in the coming days; the House could vote for the final bill as soon as next week. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress the supplemental appropriations bill must be signed by the President by the end of next week or the military might stop hiring some personnel, ordering supplies or awarding contracts. Even though the Senate did not include REAL ID in the Iraq bill, proponents such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) insist the final bill include most of the House provisions.

What REAL ID Would Do

REAL ID makes it even tougher for people seeking asylum to make their case. A judge will be able to deny asylum based on an applicant’s “demeanor” rather than evidence. Judges could deny asylum based on lack of corroborating evidence (even when there is other evidence) and the law prohibits judicial review of a decision – either for or against asylum – based on corroborating evidence. Opponents say persons fleeing torture could be sent back to their country of origin while waiting for their appeal to be heard.

REAL ID Creates uniform national standards for driver’s licenses, thereby repealing the driver’s license provisions included in the 9/11 Intelligence Reform bill passed last fall. The national standards would have the effect of requiring every state to change their driver’s license rules and would make it more difficult for many citizens and immigrants to obtain a license. No new money is provided to states to change their rules, which would require citizens to prove their citizenship. Opponents say the driver’s license provisions are overly prescriptive for states and will create a bigger market for fake documents. The measure could also expose women fleeing stalkers or domestic violence by requiring driver’s licenses to list home addresses (Currently, many states offer drivers an option to list an alternate address – an option that is attractive to women fleeing stalkers.)

REAL ID builds more fences. Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security could waive any environmental or labor law in order to build more fences between the United States and Mexico or Canada. In addition, it prohibits any judicial reviews of the waivers.

Just a few months ago President Bush’s administration worked to ensure REAL ID was not part of the 9/11 Intelligence Reform bill. However, the administration does not appear willing to weigh in during this round of debate and it is increasingly likely most of these provisions will be included in a final bill. More than 600 organizations have organized in opposition to the changes, including immigrant rights, religious, anti-domestic violence, environmental and civil rights organizations. For more information, see the Stop H.R. 418 Coalition:

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