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House Judiciary Committee approves border enforcement bill

[JURIST] The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] approved a complex bill aimed at preventing illegal immigration in a split party 23-15 vote Thursday, allowing a full House vote on the legislation next week. The bill [text; committee press release, PDF], sponsored by committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) [official website], adds border patrol agents and equipment, requests millitary assistance for border surveillance, and reimburses local police for assisting in combatting illegal entry. The bill also criminalizes illegal presence in the country, now a civil offense, and increases mandatory minimum sentences for smugglers and those convicted of re-entry after removal. Committee Democrats criticized the bill's failure to include a guest worker provision, a proposal suggested by President Bush that would exempt immigrants from removal if they are working a seasonal job such as fruit and vegetable harvesting. Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) [official website] said the tourism industry as well as the seasonal fruit and vegetable industries of several border states would suffer without the guest worker program. Sensenbrenner defended the current version of the bill, saying that the clear issue of border enforcement should be addressed before the more contensious issue of a guest worker program. AP has more.

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