President Bush, endorsing the first major rewrite of the immigration law in a quarter-century, yesterday approved a substantial boost in the number of immigrants allowed into the United States each year.
"This bill is good for families, good for business, good for crime fighting and good for America," Bush said at a White House signing ceremony.
"Immigration is not just a link to America's past, it is also a bridge to America's future," he said as he signed the bill increasing by 400,000 the number of immigrants that will be accepted over the next three years. That will make a total of 2.1 million.
It also will ease restrictions on visitors once barred for being communist or having other views unacceptable to the government. The curbs dated to the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s. The secretary of state will still be able to bar individuals for political reasons.
Bush said the bill "revises the exclusion grounds for the first time since enactment in 1952, putting an end to the kind of political litmus test that might have excluded even some of the heroes of the Eastern European revolution of 1989."
The American Bar Association praised the bill for its general provisions, but said it was disturbed by provisions "which may impede the ability of persons in immigration proceedings to secure representation," and could block some political asylum applicants.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force lauded the reversal of a bar on homosexual immigrants. The bill also drops automatic exclusion of AIDS patients, leaving it up to the administration whether to list AIDS as a disease that prevents immigrants from entering.
Gay groups are calling on Bush to refrain from listing AIDS as an exclusionary disease. "The world is watching to see whether he is going to strike AIDS" from that list, said gay task force spokesman Robert Bray. "The ball is entirely in his court."
The measure aims primarily at reuniting families. But it also will open the door to people with special skills and those who are wealthy.
It reserves 140,000 visas a year for immigrants with special skills, up from 54,000 in the past. And 10,000 visas are set aside for those with at least $500,000 to invest in businesses that create new jobs.
The measure earmarks 48,000 visas a year for persons from Italy, Poland, Ireland and other countries virtually shut off from immigration in the last 20 years.
The president also signed a number of other measures yesterday and Wednesday. They included:
A crime-control bill that Bush complained was a shadow of his 1989 proposal. The bill toughens penalties for certain white-collar crimes including a possible life prison term for some cases involving fraud by savings and loan officials. It also calls for increased penalties for offenses committed against children, including for the first time making possession of child pornography a federal offense.
Stripped from the bill, however, were Bush's proposals for a death penalty for new categories of federal crimes, including mail bombing, terrorist murder and assassination of federal officers.
The National Affordable Housing Act, with a pricetag of $25 billion for this fiscal year and $27 billion in fiscal 1992. The measure provides $155 million for this fiscal year and $885 million for 1992 to help low-income people buy their homes. It also authorizes $123 million this fiscal year and $258 million for 1992 to provide housing and services for the homeless.
A five-year, $170 billion farm bill that curbs federal subsidies and champions environmental protection. The measure also renews for five years the food stamp program that helps feed the nation's poor. It freezes minimum commodity target prices at 1990 levels and cuts subsidized acreage 15 percent.
A bill prohibiting tuna fishing within 200 miles of the U.S. coast by foreign ships unless they have federal permits. It will take effect in 1992. The measure also would set labeling standards for tuna products billed as "dolphin safe." To bear such a label, the tuna could not be harvested through driftnet fishing or purse seine nets, which also trap dolphins as well as other marine mammals, seabirds and fish other than tuna.
Legislation giving the National Transportation Safety Board more flexibility on when to release cockpit voice recorder transcripts after airline accidents. The old law required the agency to release the transcript no later than 60 days after a crash. Now, the NTSB will be able to release the transcript either when it holds a public hearing or when a majority of its staff reports on the accident are placed in the public record, whichever comes first.
A $2.5 billion bill authorizing new water projects for flood control, storm damage reduction, inland navigation and port development.
Bush also signed legislation designed to protect coastal inland waters from the zebra mussel and other "nuisance species." It contains provisions for wetlands restoration and protection, especially in Louisiana, and fish and wildlife conservation in the Great Lakes.
Legislation easing a federal mandate to harvest 4.5 billion board feet of timber per decade from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, a 16.8 million-acre forest that shelters a rich array of wildlife from grizzly bears to bald eagles. The new management plan calls for the U.S. Forest Service to prepare only enough timber for sale to meet market demand. Legislation enacted by Congress this year also establishes an additional 1 million acres of the Tongass forest as off-limits to timber harvesting and creates buffers along rivers and streams from which trees may not be taken.