House Approves New Rules for Asylum Seekers
U.S. News Article
Feb 10, 2005
By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreigners could have a harder time seeking asylum in the United States and illegal immigrants would be barred from getting drivers licenses under a bill approved on Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill will also make it easier to deport foreigners suspected of terrorist activities and clears the way for completion of a border security fence near San Diego, California.

Passed on a vote of 261-161, it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate where opposition forced similar provisions to be dropped from an intelligence reform overhaul last year that implemented recommendations made by the Sept. 11 Commission.

Supporters of the House bill, called the "Real ID Act," say it would make it harder for potential terrorists to travel in the United States by blocking illegal immigrants from getting drivers' licenses.

But a number of civil liberties groups opposed the legislation, saying the new standards would turn state-issued drivers' licenses into national ID cards and lead to more unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the roads.

Civil liberties groups also complained the bill would make it far too difficult for legitimate asylum seekers, including those who have been subjected to religious persecution and torture, to make their case to remain in the United States.

"This section ... is not focused on terrorism. All it does it put up additional bars for all asylum seekers," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who unsuccessfully sought to strike the asylum provision from the bill.


Nadler and his allies argued the bill would impose a burden of proof on asylum seekers that undercuts an American tradition of opening its doors to the oppressed.

But the bill's chief sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said it would not set onerous new requirements but "bring back sanity into the asylum laws."

Under the bill, foreign residents could also be deported for contributing to terrorist groups or providing other means of support to such groups. Sensenbrenner said the bill makes foreigners deportable for the same offenses that would keep them out of the United States in the first place.