House extends deadline for illegal immigrants |

House extends deadline for illegal immigrants


WASHINGTON (AP) – The House voted Monday to extend by four months the deadline for illegal immigrants to apply for visas while in the United States, but the Bush administration said it would support more time than that.

The Republican measure was approved 336-43 in an expedited vote, but even before the bill passed many lawmakers were looking to the Senate to provide more time than the House measure.

Jeane Mamo, a White House spokeswoman, said Bush favors ”a longer period of time than the four months.” Asked if he’d rather see a 12-month application period – the length supported by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. – Mamo said only that the president is ”open to good ideas.”

An estimated 640,000 illegal immigrants were eligible under the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act to apply for visas without leaving the country. The law took effect in December and expired April 30. It applied to illegal immigrants who are spouses or relatives of U.S. citizens, or legal residents or employees sponsored by employers. They had to have been in the country on or before Dec. 21, 2000, to be eligible.

Kevin Rooney, acting commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told Congress earlier this month that the agency favors six to 12 more months because the INS was slow to come up with regulations, which delayed the application process while the law was in effect.

The four-month bill was passed in an expedited process usually reserved for noncontroversial legislation. The bill bypassed the committee process, debate on it was limited to 40 minutes and it could not be amended.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, scheduled the quick vote because there was bipartisan agreement that more time needed to be given, said spokesman Kevin Washington.

Under House rules, the measure had to pass by a two-thirds majority. That left those who support a longer application period to decide whether to vote against the bill or accept it with the hope that the Senate would add more time.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the House proposal would create an ”explosion” of work at the INS at a time when the agency will be dealing with other visa programs. The four months will expire while spending debates are ongoing in Congress, so lawmakers won’t be able to provide staff and money the agency may need to handle the workload, she said.

”The INS … is incapable of dealing with this in a four-month period,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who is sponsoring Senate legislation for a one-year application period. Hagel’s bill has 19 co-sponsors, including six Republicans.

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