Although the media would never admit it, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is on the verge of his second-straight significant triumph for common sense over both antiquated pre-9/11 holdovers in the law and the notoriously nutty Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Incorrectly tagged an ?immigration? bill by Democrats and the media, Sensenbrenner?s REAL ID legislation, which includes language setting basic minimum standards for issuance of drivers licenses, is just weeks away from making it to the books. Ironically, the only thing that may derail the security provisions is if the Senate succeeds in adding on immigration amendments this week.
After suffering the defeat of his quest to keep drivers licenses?which can be used for boarding planes, among other things?out of the hands of illegal aliens (and terrorists) last December, Sensenbrenner wasted no time in holding House leadership to its commitment to bring REAL ID to a vote. As stand-alone legislation, it sailed through the House this February by a margin of 261-161.
The bill?s centerpiece, establishing national minimum standards for licenses, is intentionally not immigration-related. It would not prohibit drivers licenses for illegals?as long as those licenses are clearly distinguishable from those for citizens and legal residents and cannot be used as federal identification. Handing out regular licenses to people based on easily-forgeable foreign documents is, to put it kindly, risky.
Though the media has focused solely on the drivers license provisions, the legislation tackles a number of other serious shortcomings in the law.
Probably most important is that it would make the standards for deporting someone deemed a potential security threat the same as for keeping that same person out of the country in the first place. Giving potential terrorists greater benefit of the doubt simply because we learned of the threat posed only after they?re on U.S. soil is a double standard that makes no sense post-9/11.
What Sensenbrenner?s bill would do is lower the standards for deportation to equal those for inadmissibility into the country. In other words, if someone could have been denied a visa out of security concerns, that person would now be deportable on those same grounds.
True to his feisty nature, Sensenbrenner has once again taken aim at goofy decisions by the Ninth Circuit. The black robes on the left coast, however, have made this fight inevitable by turning asylum law on its head.
America should take pride in serving as refuge for millions from around the world fleeing persecution, but the asylum system is meant only for the truly deserving. Because almost anyone is free to seek asylum, it practically invites exploitation.
Asylum judges have been denied one of the most effective devices for ferreting out frauds and phonies?and terrorists. Various Ninth Circuit decisions have made it near-impossible for a judge to deny asylum based on the grounds that the applicant does not appear credible.
Juries are supposed to weigh the credibility of all witnesses in reaching a verdict, but yet professionals who?ve spent sometimes decades honing their craft, which includes reading people, are prohibited in the Ninth Circuit from performing this basic function.
The Ninth Circuit has also made it extremely difficult for a judge to deny asylum because the applicant has failed to provide any corroborating evidence, or other proof to back up a claim. REAL ID would allow a judge to do so if he believes it is reasonable to expect the asylum-seeker to provide some.
All these provisions could become law in the near future, as the House attached REAL ID to a must-pass supplemental spending bill. The only stumbling block is that Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) wants to add an actual immigration-related amendment to the spending bill, which the Senate is slated to take up this week.
According to various Hill sources, Craig wants to offer an amnesty for illegal aliens who spend at least six years in agriculture. It probably would pass the Senate, but it?s strongly opposed in the House. The likely end result would be a ?compromise? in the conference?where the two chambers reconcile the differences in legislation?in which the Senate drops Craig?s immigration amendment and the House drops Sensenbrenner?s security provisions.
Knowing Sensenbrenner?s track record, however, the safe money is on the steely Wisconsin lawmaker. When he failed to win on his drivers license proposals last December, the media claimed he had been defeated. What they missed were several key victories on security measures that Democrats bitterly opposed, including making it easier to prosecute ?material support? for terrorism and to track so-called lone wolf terrorists.
And if he wins once again, so do we.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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