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Dems locked out of debate on sweeping and controversial REAL ID Act

By Larisa Alexandrovna | RAW STORY

The controversial and little-known REAL ID Act, now in conference and slated to be passed this week, is being decided without Senate Democrats in a series of secret GOP negotiations, RAW STORY has learned.


The controversial legislation, which supporters say is needed to protect the nation from illegal immigrants, may be be passed in conference as early as Friday. Both chambers of Congress have already passed their versions of the bill; the Senate version does not contain REAL ID but it is expected to be added during negotiations. Senate Democrats say they are being kept out of discussions in much the same way that the House Democrats were barred from negotiations in late 2004.

Late last year, the Republican House leadership snubbed the White House by not allowing the Intelligence Reform Bill to go to a floor vote. The House version of REAL ID (HR 418), championed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), was to be attached to the Intel bill.

As RAW STORY reported in February, some members of the Republican caucus were split on many of 418’s controversial provisions. In an effort to soothe Republican dissent, Sensenbrenner held a series of secretive closed door meetings, along with a leading conservative Republican member with ties to Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, in order to convince the members of his delegation to support the bill by suggesting that the far Christian right would “rain down fire and brimstone.”

Sensenbrenner is said to have cut a deal; the bill would be attached as a rider to another bill in 2005. He then pulled it from the Intel bill, which then passed late last year.

REAL ID was then attached to the Iraq and Afghan military appropriations bill, which also includes money for tsunami aid. The Senate version of the appropriations bill did not include REAL ID, but Republicans are re-adding it in conference.

Many see use of the must-pass appropriations bill as a carrier for REAL ID to be a manipulation of the legislative process to pass a measure that wouldn’t be approved on its merits alone.

“An emergency appropriations bill to fund troops in the field and to aid victims of a major natural disaster should not be loaded up with a series of provisions that will lead to the creation of a national identification card,” ACLU attorney Tim Sparapani said.

Others, including the Senate Democratic leadership, take issue with the Republicans’ methodology, saying they believe it is part of an increasingly alarming pattern of single party rule:

“Democrats have been completely shut out of the backroom negotiations
that I understand have taken place this week about the REAL ID Act,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said.

“This is not the way the United States Senate should be doing business, and this is certainly not the way the American people expect that the laws that govern their daily lives will be produced," he added. "This is yet another example of the Republican leadership's abuse of power."

In a put out by the White House in support of the Real ID legislation to the Republican caucus, the Bush administration urged the conferees to pass the bill quickly for national security issues.

“The Administration strongly urges the conferees to include the Real ID Act of 2005 in the final version of the bill,” the statement said. “This important legislation will strengthen the ability of the United States to protect against terrorist entry into and activities within the United States.”

“In particular,” it added, “the legislation tightens procedures for non-citizen entry into and presence in the United States, facilitates the building of physical barriers where appropriate to protect U.S. borders, and facilitates the strengthening of State standards for the security and integrity of drivers' licenses.”

Detractors note that all of the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the United States legally, obtaining entry visas through the US embassy in Saudi Arabia. All also had legal driver’s licenses.

The most contentious provisions of HR 418 and unchanged in Real ID fall under what many see as a series unconstitutional attacks on civil liberties and in no way address the events of Sept. 11.

One of the new provisions of HR 418 would require individuals seeking refuge in the U.S. from repressive or abusive regimes to provide documented proof of their persecution or abuse as well as the abusing government’s motivation.

“Can you imagine a Christian living in the Sudan going to ask the government to provide the U.S. with ‘motivation’ for persecuting Christians?” one aide said. “What do you think would happen to that person?”

Another section of the bill allows the Homeland Security Secretary to waive all federal, state, and local law for the construction of “barriers,” and is viewed by some as in direct opposition to the Constitution.

Primarily, the Secretary would have discretion to suspend environmental, eminent domain and labor laws. The provision is worded, however, in such a way as to not limit construction to the external border of the country and actually includes roads as “barriers.”

Such suspension of labor laws could affect child labor, standards of compensation and safety, any and all compensation for the loss of property, adverse environmental affects and any damages resulting from toxins.

One Democratic aide told RAW STORY that “that moderate Republicans have privately expressed concern over the possible loss of the Latino vote, backlash from unions, and the concern that this in no way strengthens the border.”

The bill lays out the groundwork for a National ID card/driver’s license program and how it is administered. The National ID card provision does not follow the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and instead turns the DMV worker into an INS worker.

Groups opposing the bill run the gamut of the political spectrum, from the ACLU to Gun Owners of America.

“In considering this bill, the U.S. House will vote on whether to empower the federal government to determine who can get a driver’s license – and under what conditions,” Gun Owners of America said in a statement. “Since you need a driver’s license to purchase a gun from a dealer, this will give [the government] the expanded ability to impose even greater forms of gun control – something which it has long coveted. This will become even more apparent if an anti-gun Democrat like Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in 2008.”

Article originally published Apr. 28, 2005.

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